Wednesday 10 Apr, 2013

The World’s First Skyscraper

A modern-day skyscraper in Chicago

Ten stories tall may not sound like a skyscraper, but in Chicago back in 1884, one 10-story 138-foot building revolutionized how buildings were built, and in the process opened the door for the modern skyscrapers we know today.

It was called the Home Insurance Building. Designed by an engineer (not an architect) named William Le Baron Jenney, the building was the first to use structural steel in its frame. This major breakthrough made it lighter and stronger than any other buildings around at the time. Though it actually wasn’t even the tallest building in Chicago, let alone the world, the Home Insurance Building’s unique design and special weight-bearing frame earns it the distinction of the world’s first skyscraper.

Before steel framing technology came along, it was practically impossible to have a building much higher than 10 stories. Not only was it difficult to build a structure that could support itself at such great heights, there was also no way to pump water to the upper floors in a building that high. Steel framing made buildings much lighter (the Home Insurance Building weighed just one-third as much as a stone building would have), and technology was developed to pump water to greater heights. The skyscraper was born.

The Home Insurance building was destroyed in 1931, replaced by the Field Building (since renamed the LaSalle National Bank Building). Though the actual original structure is no longer there, its legacy certainly lives on.