Elisha Graves Otis is the man who helped make skyscrapers possible. He contributed to capitalism by finding a way to make safe a concept that had been around for centuries—the elevator.
Although primitive elevators go back to the third century BC, it was Elisha Otis who made them the safe, convenient forms of transport that we all know today. The primary problem with the old pulley-and-rope systems was the danger that the ropes would break (which they often did) and the elevator compartment would plummet down the shaft.
Otis had been working as a mechanic and laborer in New York when he and his sons hit upon an idea that would revolutionize the primitive elevator system. At New York's 1853 Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations, in the Crystal Palace Exhibition, Otis demonstrated his spring-loaded governor and toothed guide rail system. So confident of his invention, Otis undertook to demonstrate it by rising up an open elevator shaft in a "safety elevator" and then ordered his assistant to cut the ropes, and, much to the watching crowd's amazement, he didn't plummet to his death—his device worked. He began taking orders for his devices immediately, and by 1857, had installed the first passenger elevator in New York. Though he died in 1861, his sons carried on his legacy and the world began building taller and taller buildings.
MIT Inventor of the Week profile
Idea Finder profile
Elevator Museum profile
PBS "Who Made America?" biography