Construction of the first skyscraper in Chicago
The first skyscraper
There is academic disagreement over which building should be considered the first skyscraper. The term was first used in the 1780s to describe a particularly tall horse, before later being applied to the sail at the top of a ship's mast, tall hats and bonnets, tall men, and a ball that was hit high into the air. In the 1880s it began to be applied to buildings, first in 1883 to describe large public monuments and then in 1889 as a label for tall office blocks, coming into widespread use over the next decade. Identifying the first "true skyscraper" is not straightforward, and various candidates exist depending on the criteria applied. George Post's New York Equitable Life Building of 1870, for example, was the first tall office building to use the elevator, while his Produce Exchange building of 1884 made substantial structural advances in metal frame design. The Home Insurance Building in Chicago, opened in 1885, is, however, most often labelled the first skyscraper because of its innovative use of structural steel in a metal frame design.
The Home Insurance Building was a 138-foot (42 m) tall, 10-story skyscraper designed by William Le Baron Jenney, who had been trained as an engineer in France and was a leading architect in Chicago. Jenney's design was unusual in that it incorporated structural steel into the building's internal metal frame alongside the traditional wrought iron. This frame took the weight of the floors of the building and helped to support the weight of the external walls as well, proving an important step towards creating the genuine non-structural curtain walls that became a feature of later skyscrapers. The design was not perfect – some of the weight was still carried by masonry walls, and the metal frame was bolted, rather than riveted, together – but it was clearly a significant advance in tall building construction.