The History of Scissor Lifts

11/12/2021

Scissor lifts weren't always the fancy, high-tech pieces of equipment you see out on jobsites today. Go back just 60 years and the technology wasn't even being used on the market. Now, scissor lifts can be seen on almost every construction site, helping plumbers, painters, electricians, masons, drywallers, and more get their jobs done better while minimizing the risk of injury. Let's walk through how these machines came to be from the very first scissor lift all the way up to the present and even into the future.

Hydraulic lifting technology had been in use for decades before the first scissor lifts were invented. In the 1920s, hydraulic lifts were pulled on cars in Sweden to fix streetlights. But it wasn’t until 1963 that Charles Larson received a patent for his scissor lift design in the United States. As Larson said in his patent description, “A more specific object of this invention is to provide an improved lift mechanism, featuring novel structure incorporating an extensible means, such as, a ram, in the mechanism, whereby a relatively large amount of upward extension is possible with a relatively short ram.” Larson’s design was simpler to construct and lifted more efficiently than previous iterations of the scissor lift. Despite his patent being approved in 1966, Larson is not credited as the true inventor of the scissor lift. That honor belongs to John W. Parker, a California man who kickstarted a new era for lifting equipment.

The first scissor lift, used in the 1920s in Sweden to fix streetlights

Hydraulic lift fixing streetlights in Sweden, 1920s.

Within a decade of Larson’s initial patent approval, the big names in lift manufacturing began to create their own scissor lifts. JLG and MEC released their first prototypes in the mid-1970s, and in 1976, MEC pioneered the pothole protection system—a slab scissor requirement for all manufacturers. As more companies entered the scissor lift market, lifting technology improved greatly. Scissor lifts grew taller, reaching heights above 25 ft for the first time in the early 1990s. 

By the early 2000s, “hybrid” machines began appearing on the market, combining traditional hydraulic lifting with electric drive and steer. Founded as a welding and repair shop in 1981, Custom Equipment moved into the scissor lift market in 2004 with its Hy-Brid Lifts line. These electric drive and steer machines provided a more efficient solution on the jobsite and quickly became the industry standard. Over the next decade, scissor lifts continued to grow taller and more powerful while adding features to help operators get more done. Features such as proportional steering, hydraulic leak protection, and more have made Hy-Brid Lifts and others a safer and more productive alternative to ladders and scaffolding.

Early prototype of the Hy-Brid Lifts HB-1030

Early prototype of the HB-1030 by Hy-Brid Lifts.

Beginning in 2020, the ANSI A92.20 standards were put into place, bringing about many changes to the scissor lift industry. All lifts manufactured after June 1st of that year were required to feature live load sensing, more rigorous testing standards, taller rails, and more. These regulations were put into place to further protect workers, but they brought about many other changes too. With the increased rail height requirement, many lifts were now too tall to fit through a standard doorframe, forcing some manufacturers to add folding rails to their 19 ft lifts. The compact design of Hy-Brid Lifts allowed them to fit through personnel doors without requiring any modification, and soon other companies took a similar approach, saving operators time and hassle caused by folding rails.

The next big leap in scissor lift technology is the move to all-electric, completely removing all hydraulic components for a more environmentally friendly machine. The first all-electric scissor was put on the market in 2021, and Hy-Brid Lifts showcased one of their own at the 2021 American Rental Association trade show. Many new features and add-ons have entered the market as well, including telematics, confined access rails, pipe racks, tool trays, and more. The industry looks poised for a boom in innovation, and Hy-Brid Lifts is committed to providing customers with the best lifting equipment on the market.

Hy-Brid Lifts with TrackUnit telematics enabled

Hy-Brid Lifts Pro Series machine with telematic keypad enabled.

Ready to make some scissor lift history of your own? Click here to find a dealer near you and order Hy-Brid Lifts today!

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