BOSTON -- Every day since 1914, the world's oldest escalator still in operation has taken thousands of commuters and shoppers up from the depths of the city's subway system onto the streets above.

The wooden-cleated Otis escalator in the Washington Street station is a treasure that belongs to the American people, says William Worthington Jr., a specialist in the engineering and industry division at the Smithsonian Institution.

The escalator, designed by Jesse Wilford Reno at the turn of the century, still works and there is no money or plans to replace it, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority says.

Besides, said the authority's general manager, Thomas Glynn, "Bostonians like old stuff."

Glynn said at a recent legislative committee hearing, however, that if the authority decides to replace the aging machine, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History will get it.

There are seven other wooden-slatted escalators in the Boston subway system, all put in after the one at the Washington Street station, which was the 96th escalator installed in the world. The first one was sold to Gimbel's department store in New York in 1901. A year later, Macy's bought four.

The escalator operates 24 hours a day, except when it is shut down for maintenance or when street people pull the stop switch because it disturbs their sleep.

Fred Connelly, an Otis Elevator maintenance employee who has replaced every step in the escalator since he began working at the Washington Street station 22 years ago, said vandalism is common.

Connelly said that he used to be very attached to the escalator, but his feelings have changed. "It's getting to be a pain in the neck now," he said. "It needs constant care."

Connelly said that he has to make the wooden slats, as well as many other broken or worn parts.

But some parts, such as the main gear, never have been touched.

"I doubt if the new ones will last this long," Connelly said.