The first steel scraper of the sky

October 16, 2011

I love architecture, and have my favorite building from different eras, but until today I’ve never really thought about which building was the first skyscraper. As I looked it up, I couldn’t help but wonder what the criteria would be for a building to qualify as a skyscraper. I figured height would be the determining factor, but it’s not. The consensus is that a building must use a steel frame to qualify. So by this definition the first skyscraper was the Home Insurance Building in Chicago. It was built in 1884 (I seem to be stuck in this era, learning wise) and designed by William Le Baron Jenney. City officials were so concerned by the exotic structure that they halted construction at one point to determine if it was safe. The building, which was only 138 feet tall, was never even close to being the tallest building in the world (European cathedrals were close to 500 feet at this time) but it did usher in the age of the very tall skyscrapers. They key was just how light a steel structure can make a building; the Home Insurance Building weighed only a third of what a masonry structure of the same size would have. The building was destroyed in 1931 to make way for a larger skyscraper, the 535 foot Field Building.

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4 Responses to “The first steel scraper of the sky”

  1. Kim Lanowy said

    Really? This seems crazy! so, the steel was ‘scraping’ the sky…but bricks and mortar didn’t scrape? I think I am not alone in having always believed that sky scrapers had to do with height. Is this true today?
    p.s. I always wished I was more of a skyscraper 😉

  2. Kim Lanowy said

    you must have learned something else this week….

  3. tonykulla said

    I HAVE learned stuff! I’ll try to make time to share tomorrow!

  4. Kim Lanowy said

    maybe I should try to learn something for myself vs just depending on you for my education 😉
    – but thanks for the new post- I do look forward to it!

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