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Chicago: The Steel Home Insurance Building, Birthplace Of The First Skyscraper

In the year 1880, a man named Leroy Buffington came up with the design for the world's first skyscraper. No one would give him the money to build this ambitious 28 story project. A few years later, William Jenney won a contest that was held by the Home Insurance Company. The competition was for the design of a new building that was to be built in Chicago. The following year, in 1884, construction began on the Home Insurance Building.  While it was being built, the city halted construction to investigate how safe the structure was. The city allowed the development to continue, and history was made. Even though a number of skyscrapers had already been built, Leroy Buffington was awarded a patent for the design. Two additional stories were added in 1890, and in 1931 the building was torn down.

Other buildings had been attempted with metal frames, but often used metal that was too brittle for the project and would warp from the heat of a fire if it occurred. William Jenney proposed using steel instead of iron, and it made a huge difference. Not only was it less brittle, but it was also more fire resistant.  The design also allowed for more floor space, more windows, and a much lighter building. It is estimated that the Home Insurance Building weighed around one-third of the weight of a comparable structure made of masonry. The building was located on the northeast corner of LaSalle Street and Adams Street, in Chicago.

It took a number of years before New York, which is where the Home Insurance Company was based, got its first skyscraper. The Tacoma Building in the New York was built in 1889 and demolished in 1914. Chicago already had at least five skyscrapers before the one in New York was built.

The Home Insurance Building only stood at 180 feet tall and has since been dwarfed by other skyscrapers, including the Eiffel Tower (which stands at 986') and the Petronas Towers (standing at 1,483').  Either way, as the building that successfully utilized a metal skeleton and vertical columns/horizontal beams (and was used as a blueprint moving forward). It will stay in the history books forever and has changed the way people build buildings and live.

Through innovation and a fantastic design, William Jenney created something amazing. At General Insurance we appreciate the history and ingenuity of this historic accomplishment.

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