Who Invented the Stairs? (Invention Timeline Explained)

It’s hard to imagine the architectural world without stairs. Stairs were made as a convenient and safe way of moving between levels, and they also serve as quick exits for people during emergencies. There are stairs found in nature, ancient structures, libraries, schools, houses, old churches, museums, and buildings- literally, anywhere in the world. Stairs were even used for religious rituals and psychological symbols. A poem by Oliver Herford gave credit to the inventor of stairs by writing, “The world would be downstairs today had he not found the key. So let his name go down to fame, whatever it may be!”

Stairs have evolved alongside human civilizations. As humans enhanced and improved their building techniques, staircases’ designs and structures developed. This article tells the fascinating story of the origin of stairs and how they blended and survived architectural advancements.

Who invented the stairs?

The origin of stairs points back to the very first human structures, so it’s hard to credit a single person for its invention. However, the ancient Egyptians made the first elaborate staircases that were both functional and ornamental.

The stairs’ key contributors (and evolution)

  • Nature
    It Was Mother Earth’s Idea

    The first stairs existing on the Earth’s surface were made not by men but by nature. As a result, there are stunningly beautiful nature stairs like the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland and Scala dei Turchi in Italy. Historians believe these naturally-occurring staircases inspired humans to copy and apply the concept in their architecture.

  • Ancient People
    Born out of Necessity

    The first steps were born out of necessity. The earliest humans carved steps in mountains and hills to make hunting, harvesting, and climbing more manageable and safer. Next, humans built stairs to elevate their homes and protect their food from wildlife.

  • Egyptians and Romans
    Prettier Stairs

    The Egyptians and Romans were the first groups of people to include stairs as attractive structures in their temples, basilicas, and theaters. They started the trend of stairs being ornamental and functional.

  • Europeans
    The Oldest Wooden Stairs

    Most of the stairs found by archeologists were made of stones. However, scholars argue that the first stairs were made of woods, twigs, and other materials abundantly found in nature. For example, a 3000-year-old wooden staircase was found in a European salt mine. It was preserved by the salt that surrounds it. This discovery proved that the first stairs were made of woods, twigs, and other materials abundantly found in nature.

  • Chinese
    Sacred Stairs

    The first granite staircase was built on a sacred mountain in China. Legend has it that the souls of the deceased used the holy stairs to ascend to heaven. A lot of other cultures involve stairs in their religious rituals.

  • Werner Bosendorfer
    Standardized Staircase

    In 1948, Werner Bosendorfer, a Swiss architect, attempted to make standardized guidelines for making staircases. He proposed this for safety purposes.

When were stairs invented?

The oldest evidence of manmade stairs dates back to 4,000 years ago.

A brief history of stairs: 

Nature has its way of making life easier and safer for its inhabitants. Stair-like structures were carved on Earth’s surface due to erosion and abrasion. Animals and early humans used these structures to explore mountains, caves, and other elevated places. Unfortunately, there’s no way of telling exactly when people started mimicking these structures and building them in their homes. It is possible that the construction of stairs simultaneously began in different places, for various purposes, and using different materials. So, it’s hard to credit a single person or a group of people for its invention. However, scholars managed to pin some of the notable contributors and events that aided the stairs’ development.

First, let’s give credit to the creative minds of early humans. The early humans copied nature and built stair-like structures to make navigating more manageable and safer for them. They built stairs from pieces of flat stones, twigs, or logs placed on each other. Archeologists found remnants of these structures in cave entrances and mountains.

The early civilizations improved the structure and design of stairs. They used stairs to access homes, cities, landscapes, and villages easily. As a result, transporting goods, traveling, and visiting places became less time-consuming and safer for them. They also used stairs to elevate their homes and keep their belongings safe from floods and wildlife.

Ancient people also used stairs for religious purposes. For example, the Romans and Egyptians used stairs to design their temples. The temples were believed to bring people closer to their gods and goddesses. The Chinese built stairways in mountains that were supposed to bring the souls of the departed to heaven. Many other cultures used stairs to signify a closer relationship with their deities. 

Stairs were also used for military purposes. For example, the Romans built the Trajan’s Column in 113 AD. The staircase is narrow, with uneven steps, and ascends clockwise. They developed the spiral staircase for defense and warfare. The attackers of the palace would stumble and fall while the defenders would have a better view of the people trying to ascend the stairs. The use of spiral staircases became an architectural trend for fortresses and castles. 

Grand and elaborate stairs also symbolized wealth, political power, social status, and religious superiority. Therefore, people with elevated homes and beautiful staircases were highly regarded by society. In fact, this symbolism is still applied by people in modern-day society. Mansions, museums, theaters, and wealthy homes are adorned with beautiful stairways.

The structure and design of stairs evolved alongside the human race. Engineers and architects strive to improve stairways’ system, design, and safety.

The stairs timeline

  1. Pre-Historic Civilization
    The Simplest Stairs

    Early humans built stairs from twigs, logs, and branches of trees. They also used mud, stones, and clays, making navigating forests and mountains easier.

  2. 4,500 to 5,000 years ago
    Oldest Existing Stairs

    One of the oldest existing stone stairs was found in the ruins of Mohenjo-Daro in Pakistan. It dates back to 4,500 years ago. Another one dates back to about 5,000 years ago. It was found in Peru.

  3. 2000 BC
    Indoor Stairs

    The Egyptians and Romans used indoor stairs to make their temples, basilicas, theaters, and homes more presentable and attractive.

  4. 113 AD
    For Warfare

    Romans used stairways to confuse their attackers and increase their military defense.

  5. 1948
    Safe Standards

    Werner Bosendorfer, a Swiss architect, proposed standardized guidelines for making stairs.

Where were the stairs invented?

The origin of stairs dates back to the first human structures. However, the first glamorous stairs were made in the temples of Egypt.

Importance of stairs

  • Rigorous Exercise

    Physical activities are good for your health, especially your heart. Stair climbing is included in one of many physical activities that can help you improve lung function and improves blood circulation. 

  • Extra Space

    Stairs are used as creative storage spaces. For example, cupboards, shelves, and cabinets can be installed below them and serve as bookshelves, pantries, storage, or shoe racks.

  • Muscle strength

    Stair climbing can increase your endurance and enhance muscle strength. In addition, it improves your leg and thigh muscles and tones your abdominal muscles.

  • Cheap, Safe, and Eco-friendly

    Stairs (unlike elevators and escalators) can function without electricity, so they have less effect on the environment. They are also relatively easy and cheap to maintain. To top it all, stairs are safer during emergencies like earthquakes and fires.

The stairs by the numbers

  • 0.17Regular exercise using the stairs can help you lose weight. It can help you lose at least 0.17 calories by climbing up and 0.5 by climbing down in just a single step.
  • 11,647The longest staircase recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records is located on Niesen Mountain in the Swiss Alps. It has 11,647 steps! 
  • 10-19Climbing 10-19 stairs can keep your muscles and heart healthy. Plus, it reduces mortality risk.
  • 1948In 1948, stairs were installed in The White House. Before this, staff and people who lived there used ladders and ropes to navigate around it.

Five facts about stairs

  • Affordable 

    Stair exercise is very affordable because it doesn’t require many resources. It is also feasible and has no hassle. You can simply do it at home. 

  • Bone density and joint flexibility

    Whenever we take the stairs, our leg muscles and abs improve as well as the flexibility of our joints, hips, and knees. These strengthen our bones, especially for women prone to osteoporosis. 

  • For Defense

    Stairs in castles continually ascend clockwise. They are designed this way to give more room for the castle’s defenders to yield swords and fight enemies. In addition, each step has a slightly different width to confuse the attackers.

  • Single Ladies, Be Careful!

    John Templer’s book, The Staircase, talked about the impressive statistics and phenomena surrounding stairs. One interesting fact that he pointed out is that single or unmarried people, especially ladies, are more likely to stumble downstairs than married couples. His claim was supported by the number of accidents and deaths related to stairs.

  • Loads of Guinness World Records

    There are a lot of Guinness World Records involving stairs. For example, there are records for most stairs climbed using a unicycle, fastest dog to climb 20 stairs, longest stairs, greatest vertical stair climb, and many more!

FAQs about stairs   

  • What is the use of stairs?

    A stair is a series of steps to provide easy means to go up or move up quickly. 

  • What are the types of stairs?

    There are different types of stairs, but the most common type of stairs are straight stairs, spiral stairs, circular stairs, and split stairs. 

  • What is a stair step called?

    The vertical surface of a stair is called “the riser”; it connects the steps. 

  • How many steps are considered stairs?

    On average, 12 to 13 consecutive steps are considered stairs.

  • Which is correct, “stair” or “stairs?

    The word “stair” is the singular form, while “stairs” is the plural term. Therefore, you can use either of the two terms. However, people often use the plural form of the word.

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