Birth of the Skyscraper

American Society of Civil Engineers

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1977, Vol. 47, Issue 13, Pg. 47-50

Document Type: Feature article


Before invention of the elevator, six stories was the practical limit to the height of a commercial building. Following the Chicago fire of 1871, building designers there were quick to take advantage of the new elevator technology, which was then in its early childhood. Post-fire buildings were much taller. But as buildings went higher and higher, walls got thicker and thicker, thereby placing a limit on the height of a building. In designing Home Insurance Building (Chicago, 1885), Major William L. Jenney introduced a far-reaching innovation. Instead of using thick masonry walls to carry the weight of the building, Jenney introduced an iron skeleton of columns and beams to carry floor, roof, and wall loads. The exterior masonry wall was reduced to a mere skin. The Home Insurance Building was the world's first true skyscraper. This giant leap forward in building construction opened the door for buildings of practically any desired height.

Subject Headings: Commercial buildings | Building design | Walls | High-rise buildings | Elevators | Fires | Insurance | Masonry | Chicago | Illinois | United States

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