For the earliest versions of the effect as it is known today, see Marlo's “Penetration” in The Sphinx, Vol. 47 No. 4, June 1948, p. 89 (later reprinted in The Cardician, 1953, p. 46), Dr. Jacob Daley's “Jacob's Ladder” in The Sphinx, Vol. 50 No. 5, Sep. 1951, p. 159, and Bill Simon's “Elevator Cards” in Effective Card Magic, 1952, p. 43.
An early somewhat related trick is Samuel Pavloff's “What's Up?” in Hugard's Magic Monthly, Vol. 6 No. 7, Dec. 1948, p. 494. It required twelve extra Aces and a more belabored procedure of moving cards from packet to packet before the climax.
The first version that featured the last card changing color was J. K. Hartman's “One Way or the Other” in Packet Magic, 1972, p. 13. Seven months later Roy Walton contributed “Ambitious 1-2-3-4” to Pallbearers Review, Vol. 7 No. 11, Sep. 1972, p. 559, which has a similar ending.
Dominic Twose has spotted and decoded an interesting entry in Jacob Daley’s Notebooks. Item 70, titled “Vernon's Ectoplasmic Aces”, describes a routine in which the Aces are laid out face down in a square formation and the deck is dropped onto each one. Each Ace rises in turn to the top of the deck (the first one rising to second from the top, below top card, which has been turned face up). This routine falls into the Ambitious Card category, but it uses the dynamic of laying several cards on the table and dropping the deck onto each one, making the card rise to the top. This procedure is typical of Elevator Card routines, rather than the Ambitious Card, and makes this obscure Vernon routine a transitional piece in the evolution of the Elevator Card effect. The entry for this Vernon routine was entered on p. 62 in the third Daley notebook. There were four notebooks, said by Karl Fulves to have been composed in “the 1930's and 40's.” More accurate dating of the material has not been attempted, but it is reasonable to speculate that Daley wrote Volume 3 in the 1940s, likely in the early to middle years of that decade, before Marlo published his seminal Elevator Cards routine, “Penetration”. There is no reason to believe Marlo knew of or was influenced by Vernon's unpublished routine. In fact, Marlo cited Vernon's “1 2 3” trick in Phoenix (No. 129, Jul. 4, 1947, p. 517) as his starting point for “Penetration”.