Home Insurance Building

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Home Insurance Building
Home Insurance Building.JPG
Black-and-white photograph of the Home Insurance Building
General information
LocationChicago, Illinois, United States
Coordinates41°52′47″N 87°37′55″W / 41.8796°N 87.6320°W / 41.8796; -87.6320Coordinates: 41°52′47″N 87°37′55″W / 41.8796°N 87.6320°W / 41.8796; -87.6320
Completed1885 [1]
RoofOriginally 138 feet (42.1 metres)
Top floorAfter addition of the final two floors – 180 feet (54.9 meters)
Technical details
Floor count10 (later 12)
Design and construction
ArchitectWilliam Le Baron Jenney

The Home Insurance Building was a skyscraper that stood in Chicago from 1885 to 1931. Originally ten stories and 138 ft (42.1 m) tall, it was designed by William Le Baron Jenney in 1884 and completed the next year. Two floors were added in 1891, bringing it to 180 feet (54.9 metres). It is frequently noted as the first tall building to be supported both inside and outside by a fireproof structural steel and metal frame, which included reinforced concrete. It is thus often considered the world's first skyscraper, although this is disputed.

The building opened in 1885 and was demolished 46 years later in 1931.


The building was designed in 1884 by Jenney for the Home Insurance Company of New York.[3] Construction began on May 1, 1884.[4]

Because of the building's unique architecture and weight-bearing frame, it is considered one of the world's first skyscrapers.[1] It had 10 stories and rose to a height of 138 ft (42.1 m); two floors were added in 1891.[5]

The building weighed one-third as much as a masonry building and city officials were so concerned they halted construction while they investigated its safety.

Demolition and replacement[edit]

In April 1929 the building was reported as having a 90 percent occupancy rate, compared to an occupancy rate of the surrounding financial district estimated at at least 96 percent.[6] In September 1929 plans were made by Marshall Field's to construct a large office building spanning Adams, Clark, and LaSalle Streets.[7] This building would be constructed and opened in parts, the first part occupying the western part of the lot and the site of the Home Insurance Building.[7]

All told six buildings were demolished to make way for the Field Building, including the Home Insurance Building.[8] In 1932, owners placed a plaque in the southwest section of the lobby reading:

This section of the Field Building is erected on the site of the Home Insurance Building, which structure, designed and built in eighteen hundred and eighty four by the late William Le Baron Jenney, was the first high building to utilize as the basic principle of its design the method known as skeleton construction and, being a primal influence in the acceptance of this principle was the true father of the skyscraper, 1932.


Status as first skyscraper[edit]

The Home Insurance Building is often considered the first skyscraper,[1] although this status is disputed.[10] Its main claim to that status is as the first tall building supported by an iron frame as a skeleton.[11] It was the first multistory building in the United States to largely use iron in its exterior to support the masonry since Badger had constructed similar grain elevators between 1860 and 1862.[12] The status of the Home Insurance Building as the first skyscraper had been accorded by the time of its centennial in 1985.[11]

The Chicago press at the time of its construction did not refer to it as the first skyscraper in Chicago.[13] An 1884 list of buildings considered skyscrapers in Chicago listed three buildings whose final heights would be taller than the Home Insurance Building's.[13] Iron framing of multistory buildings had originated in England in the late 18th century and was able to replace exterior load-bearing walls by 1844, although social movements and legal regulations hindered their use at that time.[14] An example is the Ditherington Flax Mill, which is nevertheless only five stories tall.[15] The Broad Street Station in Philadelphia, a six-story building designed by Wilson Brothers & Company built in 1881, had a structural steel frame and was one of the first buildings in America to use masonry not as structure, but as curtain wall. It was later greatly expanded by Frank Furness.[16] In the United States iron framing had been developed in New York in the 1850s but was not fireproof.[17] The buildings in Chicago were able to solve this problem, supporting the external masonry entirely on the iron frame.[17] Peter B. Wright had constructed such a column in Chicago in 1874.[17] Leroy Buffington of Minneapolis developed a system of using wrought iron to frame buildings and had it patented in 1888.[18] It has been argued by critics of the Home Insurance Building that its fame originated in an attempt to defeat Buffington's patent.[19] Other candidates for first skyscraper include the 1882 Montauk Building also in Chicago[20] and the 1870 Equitable Life Building in New York.[19] The concept of a "first skyscraper" has itself been criticized for being too narrow and poorly reflecting the nuances of urban architectural history.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Smith, Chrysti M. (2006). Verbivore's Feast: Second Course: More Word & Phrase Origins. Farcountry Press. p. 289. ISBN 9781560374022. Retrieved January 19, 2012. The word skyscraper, in its architectural context, was first applied to the Home Insurance Building, completed in Chicago in 1885.
  2. ^ "Home Insurance Building". SkyscraperPage.
  3. ^ "Home Insurance Building". History.com. Retrieved October 18, 2018.
  4. ^ Alfred, Randy (May 1, 2009). "May 1, 1884:Everything's Up to Date in Windy City". Wired. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  5. ^ Kampert, Bert (December 10, 2008). "The Home Insurance Building". Chicago Architecture Info. Archived from the original on December 2, 2013. Retrieved November 8, 2013.
  6. ^ "Office Space on La Salle St. Is Near S. R. O." Chicago Tribune. 88 (14 Part 3). April 7, 1929. p. 1. Retrieved April 30, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ a b Chase, Al (September 29, 1929). "Marshall Field Estate Plans $15,000,000 Office Building". Chicago Tribune. 88 (39 Part 3). p. 7. Retrieved April 30, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ Landmark Report, p. 5
  9. ^ Korom, Joseph J. (2008). The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940: A Celebration of Height. Branden Books. p. 451. ISBN 978-0-8283-2188-4. Retrieved July 13, 2020.
  10. ^ Kamin, Blair (November 7, 2019). "Should This Long-Gone Chicago High-Rise Still Be Called the 'First Skyscraper'? Maybe Not, Says the Group that Stripped Willis Tower of Its Tallest-Building Titles". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Larson, p. 39
  12. ^ Larson, p. 51
  13. ^ a b Larson, p. 54
  14. ^ Larson, pp. 39–40
  15. ^ Kennedy, Maev (April 8, 2005). "World's first iron-framed building saved". The Guardian. Retrieved November 8, 2013.
  16. ^ George E. Thomas, "Broad Street Station," in James F. O'Gorman et al., Drawing Toward Building: Philadelphia Architectural Graphics, 1732–1986 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986), pp. 140–42.
  17. ^ a b c Larson, p. 48
  18. ^ Larson, p. 52
  19. ^ a b c Peterson, Ivars (1986). "The first skyscraper - new theory that Home Insurance Building was not the first". Science News. Archived from the original on July 8, 2012.
  20. ^ "Montauk Block, c. 1880". Encyclopedia of Chicago. Chicago Historical Society. 2004.

Other references[edit]

  • 1885 First Skyscraper, Chicago Public Library ("Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 12, 2008. Retrieved November 17, 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link))
  • Theodore Turak, William Le Baron Jenney: A Pioneer in Modern Architecture, Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1986
  • Carl Condit, The Chicago School of Architecture, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1964

External links[edit]