Worth to know about the ELTE University Library. On the disappearance of the monument lift

The disappearance contrary to how it seems, is a fact. The question what remains is: how did the lift designed by Gyula Roth look like?

We shall not write anything until we discovered all the possible paths in our investigation. This rule was broken by us because of the pandemic situation. But this causes problems only on the surface, the difficulty of hunting down proper data dates back to many years ago.

In this case we are talking about the lift of the University Library, its designer, Gyula Roth, the firm named Rotor, how they are connected and their researchability.
Gyula Roth is connected to the Library by his two inventions that we already covered in the article about the pneumatic dispatch. The factory owner Roth while still alive entrusted his colleague, Máriusz Makovsky to save the valuable legacy of the Rotor firm. (As much as a trunkful of documents about the Hungarian lift industry can be considered valuable in our region.)

The first owner of the documents, Máriusz Makovsky who was a member of the Hungarian Lift Federation, and a winner of the federation’s Life Achievement Prize left the inheritance to the Lift Museum (Mohács Street 16/c). After the museum’s closing down in 1990, the „trunk” came down to the National Polytechnic Museum, then to its successor, the Hungarian Museum of Science, Technology and Transport (its storage is at Jász Street in Budapest). According to the ex-director, Miklós Ékes, 70% of all the tangible assets of the closed museum first got to the backyard, then they ended up in the successor museum’s warehouse. Therefore, we need to wait several years until we can get access to these files, and continue our research on the „Mátrai-lift”, which is now considered an industrial monument. In the present state of the research we can lay down the followings:

The name „Mátrai-lift” comes from the Baumgarten Prize winner dr. László Mátrai, who was a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and a director of the library. He was the last resident of the director’s apartment on the second floor. The lift got to the University Library in the course of the modernization process carried out for the 300 years anniversary of the university as a result of a non-series design and construction, so it’s history technically starts in 1933-1935. In the beginning of 1933 Iván Pasteiner wrote several letters to dr. Kálmán Alszeghy (of finances office) in the case of the construction of a small personal lift. He alluded to the grumblings of the university professors, the growing number of readers and traffic on the second floor. On the 13th of June 1933 councillor and director dr. Kálmán Alszeghy informed him that the preliminary calculation and planning has started. They should have asked for tenders, but they lacked the founds. But in 1934-1935 new budget estimates were in motion which made it possible to have the sufficient found. As a reminder this was the time when the library partnered up with renowned companies like Ganz, Haas, Sorg, Lingel and Son etc. The building was sized up, the modernization of the heating, plumbing and electrical systems and the phone-network started, so a complete reconstruction of the building took place. The installation of the lifts was part of this project and consisted of building personal, goods and book lifts, the latter got to their place in 1937. The personal lift got ready in 1935, the government backed the project with a considerable amount of money due to the jubilee celebration. The modernization of the University Library was of strategic importance.

Entrusted with the designing and execution, Gyula Roth’s firm was a good name on the market. It found a market niche. They carried out numerous private and governmental orders at special locations, being considerate towards individual demands. They worked in places where others like the Wertheim firm (Hungarian Lift and Machine Factory PLC, successor of Wertheim and Co.) did not, because it did not find it profitable. (Large scale investments for the university were generally done by the Wertheim firm.)

Those who know the right side staircase of the library - which was for a long time only for private use but now it is available for anyone – shall be aware of how tight those flight of stairs are: only with considerable technical knowledge can somebody build a lift there.

This was successfully done by Roth’s ROTOR which was a well-known player in the lift business. „He was an incredible mechanical engineer and businessman. He was very single-minded about the modernization of his products, the improvement of his market position and the introduction of new, profitable products to the market.” (Statement of Máriusz Makovsky about his colleague according to the documents of the company kept in the Budapest City Archives.)

The letter correspondences between the designer and the operator in 1935 inform only about minor things, upkeeping difficulties. The lift was ready for the jubilee celebrations. It made the director’s offices on the second floor more accessible for a long time, until September 1991. Around this time (1988) the plan of replacing the lift became urgent, since the sinkage of the building caused by the underground railway’s construction finally stopped. 

According to urban legend the lift once held prisoner Bálint Hóman, who was earlier a trainee librarian, but became a powerful minister later. The credibility of this tale is questionable so we will not talk about it as fact until further investigations come up with results.

Now, this is the moment when the lift’s history becomes interesting to us. As claimed by old documents the lift was refurbished and set in operation on the 29th of November 1991. The documentation prepared by Miklós Tóth construction engineer calls the process a reconstruction. The elevator before 1991 was a drum elevator with a machine below the lift. Today only professionals can see what remained from the original Rotor prototype. The lift’s manufacturer is the Duplex Trading and Maintenance Service, its repairer is the INTERLIFT, whose chief executive officer, Sándor Nagy said the following on the 14th of May 2020: „The old elevator’s engine-house was in the basement, if it is still there I do not know. I remember that back then everything was unpacked from the engine-house and transported to MÉH (By-product and Scrap Recycling Company).”

This means that the lift which has been functioning for 30 years is partly or not at all identical to the original one, designed by Gyula Roth. The original blueprints can be found in the EDIT (the university’s own database). The decree issued by the local government on the 23rd of September 1991 licensed the lift and identified it as Rotor type lift suitable for three people, working with GEOCOOP microprocessor. The currently working hoist which was repaired partly with Schindler produced parts got all licenses by the 18th of September 1991. According to Miklós Tóth the repairing touched on the followings:

  • The basement level engine-house was moved to the upper level. The Rotor-made winding drum drive was replaced by a Schmidt licensed WR5446 type drive sheave machine. The new drive was put in the loft, while leaving the original crossbeams in place
  • The two ø13 mm ropes were exchanged to three ø11 mm long ones.
  • The lift’s carrying capacity grew from 225 kg to 240 kg, but it’s still only for three people.
  • The original 0,5 m/s speed changed to 1 m/s. The speed limit machinery was set up in the engine-house and the tension pulley in the die. The former control was relay based, but it was changed to microprocessor based one with push buttons.
  • The guide rails of the lift box were originally made of steamed beech. Even today there can be found lifts with beech guide rails in Budapest, however during reconstruction their replacement is mandatory. The reason is that throughout the years the grease and oil is soaked up by the wood and during the falling of the lift cage the catching mechanism won’t be able to stop it safely. It tears up the wood.  Hence the wood rails were replaced by V2 type 65 x 90 x 12 mm long planered steel T” shaped sections. The balance-weight’s original 45 x 45 x 6 mm angled iron profiles from Rotor remained in place and so did the corbels holding the guide-rails.
  • The original landing doors also remained but they were equipped with modern door-locks, external oil pumped closing mechanisms and the then popular handles.
  • The lift box underwent the biggest change. The mechanism called „elevator gripper bottom” was removed. The „elevator gripper bottom” was under the lift cage’s floor equipped with electric contact which sensed if anything was stuck in the lift shaft and stopped the elevator. It also operated the safety gear thus protecting the repairman working in the lift shaft.
  • The lift car got a new truss. This is the frame which encompasses the moving wooden lift box. The safety gears on the lower part of the frame and the machine on the stringers were of Schindler licence. On top of the box was the maintenance control’s equipment placed.
  • The lift car’s wooden box was probably completely changed. Its look and size are identical to the old one but the place for the controller device with the old horizontally arranged buttons is missing. We can also find plans of the new car of the lift in the report dated on the 5th of August 1991.
  • The old Rotor-made ballance-weight was left, but was modified.
  • In the die new buffers with springs were placed (type 92-02810).

In conclusion, we have to admit that the matter of the original lift requires further research. Anyone who has information on this, please contact us. Any picture of any unique Roth-made lift can be a huge help.
Thank you.

Based on Edit Kazimír's article.


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