Home Insurance Building

The Home Insurance Building was a skyscraper that stood in Chicago from 1885 to its demolition in 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 its now finished height to 180 feet (54.9 meters). It was the first tall building to be supported both inside and outside by a fireproof structural steel frame, though it also included reinforced concrete. It is considered the world's first skyscraper.

Home Insurance Building
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; -87.6320
Construction started1884
Completed1885 [1]
RoofOriginally 138 feet (42.1 meters)
Top floorAfter addition of the final two floors – 180 feet (55 meters)
Technical details
Floor count10 (later 12)
Design and construction
Architect(s)William Le Baron Jenney



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

Because of the building's unique architecture and weight-bearing frame, it is considered the world's first skyscraper.[1] It had 10 stories and rose to a height of 138 ft (42.1 m); two additional floors were added in 1891, bringing the total to 12 floors, an unprecedented height at the time.[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


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 96 percent or more.[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]

At least 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:[9]

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


The Home Insurance Building in Chicago is often considered the world's first skyscraper due to both its design and height;[1] the building was supported using an iron frame skeleton.[10] It was one of the earliest buildings to use an iron frame skeleton and the tallest to ever do so at the time, rising to ten stories; with an additional two stories added.[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 in the city whose final heights would be taller than the Home Insurance Building's, although the Home Insurance Building was completed in 1885, a year after the list.[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, but social movements and legal regulations hindered their use at that time.[14] An example is the Ditherington Flax Mill in England, built in 1797, but it was 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. But at only six stories, it was not considered the world's first skyscraper.[16] Chicago and New York each had some lower height structures using iron framing, but they were not fireproof.[17] Later buildings in Chicago were able to solve these problems by supporting the external masonry entirely on the iron frame, which later became the standard worldwide.[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.[18] However, the design of the Home Insurance Building, supporting the external masonry entirely on the iron frame, was used more by architects worldwide. Buffington later patented his wrought iron to frame design in 1888, but the Chicago school of architecture had already begun.[19] Other tall structures completed before the external masonry to iron frame style included the 1882 Montauk Building, also in Chicago,[20] and the 1870 Equitable Life Building in New York.[19] There were also a few other buildings in New York and Chicago of similar height with different architectural designs.[19]

See also





  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. Vol. 88, no. 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. Vol. 88, no. 39 Part 3. p. 7. Retrieved April 30, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ Taussig, Meredith. Field Building (Report). Commission on Chicago Landmarks. p. 5 – via Archive.org.
  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 1987, p. 39
  12. ^ Larson 1987, p. 51
  13. ^ a b Larson 1987, p. 54
  14. ^ Larson 1987, 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 1987, p. 48
  18. ^ Larson 1987, 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.


  • Larson, Gerald R. (1987). "The Iron Skeleton Frame: Interactions Between Europa and the United States". In Zukowsky, John (ed.). Chicago Architecture 1872–1922 Birth of a Metropolis. Munich: Prestel Verlag. 39-56. ISBN 9783791308371. OCLC 19850754.

Other references

  • 1885 First Skyscraper, Chicago Public Library ("Chicago: 1885 First Skyscraper". Archived from the original on February 12, 2008. Retrieved November 17, 2016.)
  • 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