A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Do "close door" buttons on elevators ever actually work?

November 7, 1986

Dear Cecil:

Please confirm or refute my suspicions. Does the "Close Door" button on an elevator actually do anything, or is it provided merely as a tension-releaser for us harried yuppies? I await an uplifting answer.

Cecil replies:

Spare me the pathetic puns, Lennie; this is serious business. The grim truth is that a significant percentage of the close-door buttons in this world, for reasons that we will discuss anon, don't do anything at all. Naturally, this is not something the elevator companies wish to have widely known, lest there be social unrest. When I talked to the folks at the Otis elevator company in Farmington, Connecticut, they were all innocence. Among other things, I was told that the close-door buttons at Otis HQ (which, the views of the cynics notwithstanding, is not located in a one-story building) always work like a charm.

This is comforting news, needless to say. I would suggest that any harried city dweller who has never seen a close-door button that actually did something might want to make a field trip out to Farmington to inspect the genuine article. In the meantime, having consulted with various elevator repairmen, I would say that apparent CDB nonfunctionality may be explained by one of the following:

(1) The button really does work, it's just set on time delay. Suppose the elevator is set so that the doors close automatically after five seconds. The close-door button can be set to close the doors after two or three seconds. The button may be operating properly when you push it, but because there's still a delay, you don't realize it.

(2) The button is broken. Since a broken close-door button will not render the elevator inoperable and thus does not necessitate an emergency service call, it may remain unrepaired for weeks.

(3) The button has been disconnected, usually because the building owner received too many complaints from passengers who had somebody slam the doors on them.

(4) The button was never wired up in the first place. One repair type alleges that this accounts for the majority of cases. In other words, the whole thing is a total scam. Watergate, Iran-contra, and now this. And they wonder why we've lost faith.

Observations from the field

Dear Cecil:

Your source at the Otis Elevator Company seems not to have been entirely forthcoming, or perhaps only Brand X elevators have "close door" buttons that function in yet a fifth way. At my grade and high school in New York (the building opened in 1966), the elevators usually operated in automatic mode — you pushed the button for your floor, and eventually the doors closed and the elevator took you where you wanted to go. But for special occasions the elevator could be keyed into "operator" or manual mode. The doors would stay open until you pressed and held the "close door" button. (If you released it before they were completely shut, they would just slowly open up again, and you couldn't do a thing about it until they were finished. That could be real embarrassing when you were, say, ferrying visiting parents to their teacher conferences.) "Open door" always worked, but "close door" didn't seem to have any other effect.

Dear Cecil:

Just a comment on your recent investigation of "close door" button operation. I visited Otis Elevator HQ last spring and had to walk up to the second floor because the elevator was out of order. The "close door" buttons may work there, but the rest of the elevator is a little chancy.

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