The electron accelerator facility ELSA has been operated for almost 30 years serving nuclear physics experiments investigating the sub-nuclear structure of matter. Within the 12 years funding period of the collaborative research center SFB/TR 16, linearly and circularly polarized photon beams with energies up to more than 3 GeV were successfully delivered to photoproduction experiments. In order to fulfill the increasing demands on beam polarization and intensity, a comprehensive research and upgrade program has been carried out. Beam and spin dynamics have been studied theoretically and experimentally, and sophisticated new devices have been developed and installed. The improvements led to a significant increase of the available beam polarization and intensity. A further increase of beam energy seems feasible with the implementation of superconducting cavities.