Reaching for the Sky: The Fascinating History of Ladders

Reaching for the Sky: The Fascinating History of Ladders

07th November 2019

Ladders are essential pieces of equipment that it is easy to take for granted. Yet, how could we hope to safely reach up high or work at heights without them? Have you ever stopped to wonder who invented them and when the first one was used?  
Ladders in the Bible
Possibly the first ever mention of ladders comes from the Bible. Jacob’s ladder is mentioned in the Book of Genesis. This comes from a vision that Jacob had of a ladder that led all the way up to heaven, with angels ascending and descending it constantly to carry out God’s work.
The significance of this dream has long been a subject of intense debate. However, what it tells us is that ladders were known about at the time the Bible was written. Ladders were also commonly used as religious metaphors from the 2nd or 3rd century onwards, so they seem to have been objects that many people would have been familiar with. 
The First Ladders
Historians believe that the origins of ladders can be traced back to the ancient Egyptian and Hebrew cultures. The oldest image that we have of a ladder is some 10,000 years old, or possible even older. It was discovered in a Mesolithic rock painting that was discovered in the Spider Caves in Valencia, Spain.
The ancient image shows a couple of people climbing up a type of ladder to reach a wild bee’s nest in order to get hold of the honey in it. The ladder is shown to be long and flexible, with experts suggesting that it was probably made out of grass of some sort. 
Modern Advances
For many years, ladders were mainly made out of wood and completely rigid. However, one of the major breakthroughs came in 1862. This was when Ohio carpenter John H.Balsley is credited with inventing the very first folding wooden stepladder. In 1867, American inventor Henry Quackenbush took out a patent for the first type of extension ladder. His company also created revolutionary new products such as nutcrackers and air rifles.
The 20th century saw materials such as aluminium and fibreglass lead to the introduction of lighter and safer models. It is suggested that the first aluminium ladder was made by the Aluminium Company of America, when a Norwegian fire department asked them to create something that would be lightweight and easy to use.
The 20th century also saw the introduction of the various safety standards that determine the safety of these items. British legislation includes the BS EN 131:1993, which covers timber and aluminium ladders as well as step unit standards.  
What Does the Future Hold? 
A look back at the history of ladders has shown us how inventors have constantly strived to improve the safety and ease of use that they provide. This makes us believe that more improvements will occur over time.
Will ladders become bigger, stronger or possibly even use artificial intelligence? It seems safe to suggest that the fascinating history of these items still has a long way to go.