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Chicago – Been There

Here's a Chicago invention: skyscrapers

Photo by Mike Kline

Chicago – Been There Here's a Chicago invention: skyscrapers

In the 19th century, swampland city Chicago introduced the world to a revolutionary style of building: skyscrapers. “We built them to show everyone that Chicago is a world class city.”

Ed Graham
Ed Graham

Chicago is known for its impressive skyline of buildings, so high they take your breath away. Historian Dan O’Connell fell in love with Chicago when he moved here from New England 21 years ago and he now runs Chicago's Finest Tours, providing a living history of the city to visitors and locals. He tells me about Chicago’s Home Insurance Building, the world’s first ten-story building that paved the way for the skyscrapers in the city today.

The Home Insurance Building was built in 1884 on 135 South LaSalle Street and demolished in 1931. Today, a Private Bank Building stands on the spot. William Le Baron Jenney, its architect, was the one who discovered the secret to building skyscrapers. “In 1884 William Le Baron Jenney changed the world by introducing the load-bearing steel frame.” O’Connell explains. “Piling steel upwards is limited at about 215 feet because it begins to crush the base below it, but the sky's the limit with the load-bearing steel frame."

Chicago architect Daniel Burnham and his partner John Root added their genius by developing a method allowing these tall buildings to be built on Chicago’s swampy, unstable ground. “Today's foundations go all the way to the bedrock but in the 1880s we had no way to get there,” Dan says. “What Root suggested is to go to the clay level 40 feet below the surface, and have a floating raft reinforced with steel. This anchors the foundation of the buildings.”

Although Chicago’s vertical growth has slowed in recent decades, its architectural expertise continues to be felt worldwide. Chicagoan architect Adrian Smith designed the megatall, 2,717-ft Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and is working on the upcoming 3,281-ft Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia.

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The Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain has 36 jets, including a central jet with a 150-foot geyser, making it one of the largest fountains in the world. It runs from runs from 8am to 11pm every day, from April to mid-October, adding a light display after dusk with 820 lights. Photo by Jeffrey Bosdet / Getty Images

Jeffrey Bosdet

Jeffrey Bosdet

Agency
Getty Images

The Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain has 36 jets, including a central jet with a 150-foot geyser, making it one of the largest fountains in the world. It runs from runs from 8am to 11pm every day, from April to mid-October, adding a light display after dusk with 820 lights.

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