(Many entries are extended quotes from other sources)
By 1860, the Dart Elevator had spawned ten similar structures on the Buffalo waterfront and given the city a storage capacity of over one-and-a-half-million bushels. With an addition of sixteen more elevators by the end of the Civil War, Buffalo surpassed the grain commerce of London, Odessa, and Rotterdam to become the world's largest grain port. Without the invention of the versatile and efficient elevator, this meteoric rise would have been impossible.
[In 1861,] four large elevators were built and the amount of grain going through Buffalo exploded, going from about 30 million bushels in 1860 to over 60 million in 1861.
The world had never seen anything like it. After that, Buffalo became famous for its grain trade and elevators. The ungainly wooden elevators became tourist attractions.
From Tim Tielman's "Buffalo's unusual claim to architectural fame" webpage
In 1861, the British novelist Anthony Trollope visited the Queen City and recorded his impressions of the flourishing grain trade he saw there. "As ugly a monster as has been yet produced," said Trollope, of the elevators that crowded the busy Buffalo waterfront. He likened them to dinosaurs with "great hungering stomachs and huge unsatisfied maws." Yet he admired the efficiency with which these modern-day industrial brutes processed enormous amounts of grain.
An elevator with cast iron bins twelve feet in diameter and fifty feet in depth was built on the Brooklyn, New York, waterfront. Steel bins were used for the first time in an elevator that went up at Philadelphia [Grand Point Storage Company]. Later in the same decade, steel bins were used for the first time in an elevator that went up at Philadelphia.
Cylindrical steel or wrought-iron boilerplate bins were pioneered in the 1860s, but were slow to catch on because of their high cost, specialized construction, corrosion, lack of insulation, and awkward circular form (Banham 1986: 117t).
The Plympton Elevator [no image found] was probably "the first attempt to construct a fully fireproof, non-timber elevator in Buffalo... Erected in 1868, it was built of iron and steel components, including cylindrical metal bins, rather than with the rectangular bins of timber framed elevators. It also had an attached workhouse made of brick and iron. The high cost of construction, however, seems to have discouraged imitators of the Plympton, which went down in the early 1890s. Ironically, this was just at the dawn of a new age of metal elevator construction." Also, "Special interlocking bricks were used with no exterior walling with successful protection against the exterior climate." (From 1890s to 1930s and Great Northern Grain Elevator webpages of the History of Buffalo's Grain Elevators website.
Cribbed construction of grain bins was devolped and/or popularized in the 1870s (Banham 1986: 115m). In cribbed construction, wood planks are laid log-cabin style with overlapping corners, and then spiked together, creating a very strong and solid structure.
After the Civil War, [Dart's engineer] Robert Dunbar continued to design and build elevators on the Buffalo waterfront. He constantly made improvements.... By the middle of the 1880s, the largest elevators could stow 1,000,000 bushels of grain and elevate stores from boats to bins at a rate of 19,000 bushels an hour.
A significant development that made such speed possible and which actually changed the outward form that later elevators would take was the introduction of horizontal transfer systems to move grain to the internal storage bins. The horizontal conveyor system allowed grain to be distributed to bins some distance from a fixed elevator leg.
The heads of elevating legs and related weighing equipment were housed in a tall cupola or monitor (often containing windows to light the interior) that ran the length of the structure above the storage bins. And economy dictated that the bins now be lined up in straight rows so that "grain might be distributed to them from the least number of horizontal conveyers." Thus, the long, lateral form of the twentieth-century concrete elevator, with stacks of silos lined up beneath an upper "headhouse" began to replace the tall, vertical shed form of the earliest elevators.
Conveyor belts also were added to the basement level of elevators, which eliminated the need for elevating legs down the length of the structure. By means of this innovation, grain being removed from a bin "could be spouted onto the basement conveying system and taken to some convenient point in the house where elevator legs were located. Fewer legs were required per unit of storage as outgoing grain from any bin could be directed to a single elevator leg."
Now elevating legs could be grouped at one end of the elevator only, in a "workhouse." From the workhouse, a "headhouse" or low gallery extended across the top of the elevator and housed the bin floor conveyor system. This headhouse replaced the tall cupola of older elevators. The now demolished Lake Shore Elevator, erected in 1886, was regarded as the first fully evolved example of this forward-looking system. At the same time, the loose leg became housed in a tower that nearly stood separate from the elevator itself.
From this, soon developed the "marine leg tower," a moveable structure set on wheels housing loose legs that could be moved along the length of the elevator to unload grain from waiting vessels moored alongside. By 1894, four of these moveable marine towers were working parts of Buffalo elevators.
By the early 1890s, Buffalo's wooden elevators had evolved away from Dart's barn-like structure to a form that, internally, anticipated the classic concrete elevators that would soon replace them. The elongated arrangement of rows of bins, the vertical workhouse at one end, the low headhouse extending across the top of the row of bins, and the moveable marine leg tower already were characteristics of Buffalo grain elevators erected by the early 1890s.
By the time that Buffalo's mayor Grover Cleveland became president in the mid 1880s, the Buffalo Express [newspaper] avowed that "Buffalo has long been known as the City of Grain Elevators."
Nearly all the elevators erected in Buffalo before the 1890s were made of wood. In the 1890s, engineers in Buffalo and elsewhere began to explore seriously the use of new, fireproof materials in the construction of grain elevators. Experiments with fireproof materials centered on steel, tile, and concrete. (By this time, most elevators, even timber ones, rested on concrete pier foundations.) The search eventually led to the revision of the elevator as it had been known up until that time.
The "Johnson System" of clay tile bins was patented in 1895 and demonstrated in 1899 (Banham 1986: 133b).
The pioneering examples of steel bin grain elevator construction in Buffalo were the Electric Elevator and the Great Northern Elevator. Both of these elevators, which went into operation in 1897, also marked the switch from steam to electrical powered machinery.
The Electric Elevator...consisted of steel bins resting on concrete foundations with a tall, corrugated iron workhouse at the wharf end and a steel-frame horizontal transfer system for the distribution of grain above the bins. The bins, which had hemispherical bottoms to facilitate the flow of grain, rested above basement conveyor belts that carried grain to and from below grade.
The most striking feature of the Electric Elevator's appearance to the eyes of people familiar with its wooden ancestors would have been its cylindrical bins standing completely exposed to view. For unlike earlier timber grain elevators, the Electric had no structure sheltering its bins from the elements.
The Great Northern Elevator would have looked less radical in its outward appearance to its contemporaries than did the Electric Elevator. In its shed-like form, it resembles the shape of primitive wooden elevators. Its 99-foot-tall steel bins are sheltered inside a vast, 300'-long structure of brick curtain walls equivalent in height to a ten-story building.
Its designers, bridge architect Max Toltz and elevator engineer D. A. Robinson (both of whom were employees of the Great Northern Railroad that built the elevator ), thought that by enclosing the metal bins they were better protecting the grain being stored in them from the extremes of cold and heat. To shield the grain from summertime temperatures was especially important in order to prevent it from overheating and sprouting.
The horizontal conveyer system for distributing and weighing incoming and outgoing grain was housed in a four-story-high, corrugated iron headhouse atop the elevator.
The internal arrangement of the Great Northern Elevator differs considerably from that of the Electric Elevator. The Great Northern's bins, which are formed of plates of steel riveted and welded together, stand on steel pillars several feet above the concrete floor of the elevator. (Another set of steel I-beams supports the headhouse and the upper level conveyor system.) Some of the bins could hold 70,000 bushels of wheat while others were subdivided horizontally to accommodate lesser amounts of grain from smaller shipments. (This is a feature of the Great Northern that looks forward to the design of later concrete elevator design.)
But the use of cylindrical bins resulted in about a twenty per cent loss of storage space over the old rectangular bin system. The engineers mitigated this problem by introducing eighteen narrower bins between the forty-eight main bins. (Later, additional bins of smaller diameter yet were added between the main bins and the outer walls.) Thus, the final storage capacity of the Great Northern reached ninety per cent of the available ground space.
After the Electric and the Great Northern, a number of steel elevators went up on the Buffalo waterfront. These included the Great Eastern Elevator (1901), the Iron Elevator (1902), the Monarch Elevator (1905), and the Dakota (1901).
The Great Northern was a "grand monument to an intermediate phase" of modern industrial architecture (Banham 1986: 119m).
From Elizabeth Cromley's review of Reyner Banham's 1986 A Concrete Atlantis
The essential elements that grain elevators needed in the early 20th century were electric power, the "loose leg" (a mobile powered conveyer mechanism that carries grain from ship or railroad car to storage silo), and freestanding circular bins.
From Elizabeth Cromley's review of Reyner Banham's 1986 A Concrete Atlantis
Ever increasing volumes of grain and almost ruinous insurance premiums on wooden elevators caused engineers to seek more durable and efficient methods of construction. This led, after 1900, to structures built of steel, tile, and reinforced concrete. The resulting elevators were monstrous in scale: huge, monolithic technological wonders.
...Mammoth reinforced concrete elevators, the first of which went up in Buffalo in 1906. The last one constructed here was erected in 1954.*
The American engineer had clearly created something new. Progressive European architects took notice... Engineers had produced what architects had not, could not: totally unselfconscious architecture.
From Tim Tielman's "Buffalo's unusual claim to architectural fame" webpage (emphasis added) except * from "A History of Buffalo's Grain Elevators - Excerpt from the 2002 Buffalo Grain Elevator Multiple Property Submission to the National Register of Historic Places"
The long, linear form for railyards and waterports emerged in Minneapolis. One of the first was the Pioneer Steel Elevator, with a tall "working house" vs. a chase system transfers atop the bins. "Only one of the three great early boilerplate elevators" surviving (Banham 1986: 130b).
Clay tile grain country elevators in northwestern Oklahoma (as summarized in a NRHP thematic nomination) were built in the 1910s-1920s, and were transitional from wooden to concrete elevators. They used 5 inch thick clay tiles with nominal measurments of 9 by 12 inches. The standard curvature of the tiles dictated a standard bin size; heights for the bins were about 30 feet while the elevator structures were usually about 50 feet (Curth & Otey 1982).