Home Insurance Building
Life Span: 1885-1931
Location: NE Corner of LaSalle and Adams Streets
Architect: William LeBaron Jenney
Chicago Tribune, March 2, 1884
W. L. B. Jenney took out a permit yesterday to put up an eight-story and basement office structure, at the northeast corner of Adams and La Salle streets, to cost $300,000 for the Home Insurance Company of New York. “The building,” said Mr. Jenney, “will be strictly fire-proof and first-class in every respect. It is too early to give a description of the plans, for many important points have hot yet been decided upon. The license was taken out rather prematurely because an ordinance is pending in the Council forbidding the erection of buildings more than 100 feet in height. Those who have considered this subject think that the ordinance should make it illegal to erect non-fire-proof buildings of more than sixty feet in height. Why the height of fire-proof buildings, however, should be interfered with is not evident.”
Inland Architect, March, 1884
The Building Committee of the Home Insurance Company of New York have been examining the designs of three different architects. They are representative men in the architectural profession, and it will be hard to choose, and when it is done it will be because of the fancy of the committee for some one design rather than because of any weakness in the others. A permit to build was taken out upon the plans of architect W. L. B. Jenney, and that architect has, upon the orders of the company, let the cut stone and other contracts; but while this architect’s designs are highly meritorious,and would give to the company a magnificent structure, no design has as yet been accepted.
Home Insurance Building
Published by Sprang Printing, Boston
Inland Architect, May 1884
Work on the Home Fire Insurance building is progressing rapidly. The first story and basement will be of Jonesboro rose granite, with Tren¬ ton pressed brick and Vert Island red sandstone trimmings above. The ironwork will be furnished by the Dearborn Foundry. It is the company’s intention to make this a model office building, not losing sight of the fact that it is a commercial enterprise, and as in exterior design and interior plan the architect has been admirably successful, the renting of the building will be accomplished without trouble, as the demand for convenient office quarters will be fully met.
Inter Ocean, October 18, 1885
Take it as a whole, the Home Building at the northeast corner of La Salle and Adams street, is the finest piece of architecture in Chicago, and as the past week witnessed its house-warming, i.e., its occupation as their Northwestern headquarters and local offices by the company who built it, The Inter Ocean improves the occasion to pay a passing tribute—to the building, for the company needs none. The passerby who, busy as he may be and impelled along by the rushing throng, does not cast at least a second glance up through that vaulted entrance way and high-arched court of finest polished Italian marble, gleaming the whiter for the lace-work of blue steel festooning the entrance, and the bars of onyx and bronze relieving the marble vista—such a man deserves not to have eyes, and has none for the highest architectural art. The sight would lengthen the days of the great Ruskin. Chicago has no parallel for the greatness and dignity of this entrance, nor has this country unless in one or two New York instances. It is twenty-five feet wide, and rises through two stories, or nearly thirty feet. The floor is marble, the wainscoting is marble, with Mexican onyx pilasters, the walls are marble, the arched ceiling is marble, the bronzed stairs have marble steps, and throughout the ten-story pile the floors of all halls and the steps of all stairs are in marble, the material being the finest Italian, snowy as Carrara, and susceptible and often subjected to the highest polish. The newel-posts of the grand stairways rising on either side terminate in clusters of electric lights, and there is a great electrolier at the summit of the staircase. Immediately ahead of you as you enter, and forming the background of those marble halls—fairer than those the singer dreamt he dwelt in—is a bank of four elevators against a field of plate glass, extending clear to the top of the building and opening out into a great court, lighting the halls of every story—an arrangement of elevators declared by an expert the best ever secured here on account, first, of coming directly in front of you, and, second, of the noonday light flooding every part of the building, an effect of course heightened by the omnipresent white marble and the very large and singularly frequent windows of French plate glass. The wainscoting of every hall-way, from the basement to the tenth story, is heavy Italian marble in wide panes, and supporting the marble steps all the stairways in the building are in electro-bronze work, always rustless, and finished to the point of decoration.
Another very notable fact is this, that notwithstanding the immense heft of the building, as heavy as any building that has been put up in Chicago, the most careful survey and computation by an engineer show, over the entire building, a variation in settlement of a little less than three-fourths of an inch—a remarkable showing, unequaled by any of our large buildings. The very handsome exterior of the building—Eastern brick and brown stone in material—the subterranean regions with their pyramids of foundations in cut-stone and their latest, ponderous machinery for heating, power, and electricity, and the wonderful thoroughness in the finish and equipment of the offices, single and en suite, are so many schools of higher education in architecture and construction, and certainly to the designer of it all, Architect W. L. B. Jenney, of Chicago, the congratulations of the press and people are in order. In the House Insurance Building, had he reared no other of the scores buildings that embody his skill and Chicago’s greatness, would be a monument enduring the logic of fact, whatever the quiverings of surprise, and it is a ghoulish prudishness that would om;y take man’s measure for the undertaker. Here and now let genius in architecture, as well as “the wise judge,” “have praise in the gates.”
A beautiful feature of the great general offices and the landings leading thereto is the equipment of ornamented glass, and throughout the building the doors and transoms have been treated in a similar artistic and finished manner. This work represents the well-known Western Sand Blast Company, northwest corner of Clinton and Jackson streets, Mr. Edwin Lee Brown President, a manufactory that is the recognized headquarters for fine execution in this line, the firm making a particular feature of glass signs and sand blast and embossed glass. In the mantels and fire-places is represented the Butler Company, Michigan avenue and Adams street. They supplied the tiles, not only of the hearths, but for all the floors of the vaults. The material and workmanship are of the same perfect sort that characterizes all this company’s many contributions to the upbuilding of Chicago.
The plumbing of this building has been referred to already in our columns, but the work just finished on the eighth floor deserves specification, and in the building throughout no expenses nor pains have been spared to have the plumbing as good as any office building in the country. On the floor named—in one chamber and everything in marble—are twenty closets, five compartments, three wash basins, and a slop-sink which is one of the finest put up in Chicago, being all marble in panel work. In the same L is to be a barber shop. In the hallway of each floor there is a beautiful drinking fountain. Mr. Edward Baggot, whose work it is, likewise furnished one of the floors with gas fixtures at Fifth avenue and Madison street. Mr. Baggot will have the Rialto Building, and it will be ready for him to commence on as soon as he gets through with the Home, and it will be very nearly as large and as fine a job. Mr. George B. Whitney was superintendent of construction under Architect Jenney, and no other civil engineer was ever more zealous and efficient.
As to occupants, the building lavishes the top floor on the Home Insurance Company, Northwestern department, Messrs. Ducat & Lyon, managers, and also ample gropund-floor space for the company’s local offi es. Five beautiful rooms, elegantly furnished, Nos. 201-206, fronting south on Adams street, are the law offices if Bisbee, Ahrens & Decker—L. H. Bisbee, John P. Ahrens, and Henry Decker. Mr, Bisbee is probably the best versed and most widely experienced man in Chicagi as regards all questions and intricacies connected with the Board of Trade; and hence this location, so convenient to the firm’s clients. Here is the office of Frank Compton, an attorney of many years’ standing, known reputation, and extensive acquaintances with the mercantile houses of this city, who has lately organized a system for the controlling of credit by the co-operation of creditmen, and incorporated it under the name of the Compton Credit Clearing Company. It finds favor and support with our leading wholesale houses. The Northwestern department of the Snead & Co. Iron Works, Louisville, Ky., has its headquarters in room 22, Mr. C. W. Trowbridge, manager. The company manufacture architectural iron work of every description and of such excellence that they are overrun with orders. Armour & Co. have half the first floor floor; Byron L. Smith has a private office; the Millerst National Insurance Company occupy rooms 105-107; W. C. Larned, H. H. McDuffu, Mr. Riddle, Wanzer & Co., Wm. Avery, F. A. Howe, the Messrs. Price, Daniel Connell, and others are at home. Howbeit there is abundant accommodations for many other tenant, the great marble granary being completed rather late for this year’s harvest.
Inland Architect, Supplement, September, 1884
Office Building for the Home Insurance Company, Chicago. W. L. B. Jenney, architect.
This building is being erected on the northeast corner of Adams and La Salle streets, Chicago, for the Home Insurance Company, one of the leading fire insurance companies of New York, to be occupied for general office purposes and the Western headquarters of the company, in charge of the company’s agents, Messrs. Ducat & Lyon, so well known in Chicago because of their prompt and full payment of all losses after the great fire. The building occupies 138 feet on LaSalle street and 96 feet on Adams street, and is nine stories and basement in height—a total of 150 feet from the sidewalk to the top of the cornice The basement is 10 feet high in the clear; the first floor, which will be fitted for banking purposes, 19 feet; the second 13 feet, the third and fourth 12 feet, the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth 11 feet, while the ninth story will be one large hall 18 feet high, with galleries, and fitted for the Western department of the Home Insurance Company.
The foundations are calculated for a permanent weight of two tons per square foot, the borings showing soft clay to the depth of 20 feet, the extent of the examination, and are isolated piers carefully proportioned to the weight they are to carry. They are composed of 2 feet of concrete, dimension stone and a layer of square rubble stone. The pedestal, formed from the basement and first story, is of Fox Island granite, the walls rock? faced, but with considerable carving at entrances. The main entrance displays four of the finest polished granite columns ever placed in the West. The walls above are composed of dark red Trenton pressed brick—one of the finest pressed bricks found in any market—set in red mortar and trimmed with panels of Perth Amboy terra-cotta, and red sandstone from Vert Island, Lake Superior, a hard sandstone, fine in color, very strong, weathers well and can be procured in any quantity and in blocks as large as can be handled. The construction is especially designed for a tall, heavy building set upon a compressible foundation, which this is. Such construction must be elastic, as settlements must take place, and although every care is taken to make settlements uniform, there will be more or less inequality, and to counteract these there must be elasticity in the construc? tion. It is also necessary to have all rooms as well lighted as is possible, and this is mainly accomplished by having the piers cut away to the mini? mum of strength. To satisfy these two requirements the girders are car? ried on square iron columns built into the brick piers and connected at the top of each window by lintels. Each floor of beams and girders is tied together and also tied to all the columns, thus forming a complete network supplemented by heavy hoop-iron, built into the brickwork in every place where increased bond or tie is desired, and also every stone is clamped or anchored so that settlement will produce as little displacement as possible. The interior, including all the iron columns, girders, beams, etc., will be fireproofed by the system of hollow fireclay tile arches, partitions, etc., placed by the Wight Fireproofing Company. The finish will be in hard? woods, and the exterior balconies, the balustrade on the roof, etc., will be of elaborate magnetic oxide ironwork, a material especially adapted for these purposes, by Poulson & Edgar, of Brooklyn. The designs for the main stairway are very artistic, and are to be carried out in this material. The construction of the building is in the hands of some of the most skillful contractors in the country, and the building, when completed, will not have its superior among the insurance buildings of the country. The arrangement of offices are thorough and complete. Six Hale Hydraulic elevators will give rapid and easy access to all floors, and the building will, when finished, cost not less than $600,000.
Home Insurance Building
After two stories were added in 1888
Rand McNally’s Bird’s Eye View and Guide to Chicago, 1893
The Home Insurance Building,
The Home Insurance Building, at the northeast corner of Adams and La Salle streets, is one of the ponderous structures of the boom of 1884. The spectacle of putting its foundation-blocks of granite in place as far as the second story was viewed with wonder and pride, nor can such architecture ever grow less impressive; for probably, to-day, there is not another first story in America more permanently laid. The building went to ten stories in 1884. In 1891 two more were super added. Here Mr. P. D. Armour long worked ten hours a day at his desk on the left side of the main floor as you enter. The entrance was one of the first to don the chaste fittings of white marble, and the elevators rise near a succession of windows that command fine views. The exteriors of Chicago’s monuments must always be black, it seems, but within the portals the product of Carrara quarries gleams with the greater purity, the reason, perhaps, ofChicago’s preference for marble finishings. It should also be remembered that marble does not burn so easily as plaster. In this Home Building the tiles of a floor rest on concrete, the concrete on iron
It fronts 140 feet on La Salle and 97 on Adams, with a height of 180 feet. The walls of the lower two stories are made of one course of granite blocks. The foundations are heavy, and the brick walls of the superstructure are very thick. There are 235 offices, 1,250 occupants, and 4 passenger elevators. The principal tenants are Armour & Co., who have general offices here, and the Union National Bank, of which J. J. P. Odell is president. Insurance agents, manufacturers’ agents, publishers, and professional men fill the building. Erected in 1884, at a cost of $800,000, and enlarged in 1891.
Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1907
Fifty monuments, many of them higher than Bunker Hill monument, thousands of beautiful memorials scattered through the world, one entire town, a great national park which he first helped make horrible and then, forty years later, made beautiful—these are some of the memorials to William Le Baron Jenney, who died in Los Angeles last week.
Jenney invented the skeleton structure and revolutionized city building, erected some of the greatest skyscrapers in the world; startled the architects and builders of every land by his daring innovations, laid out and built the town of Riverside, saved half of Grant’s army at Shiloh, made Sherman’s march to the sea practicable by his bridge work, caused Vicksburg to fall by his wonderful engineering, planned and located the historic spots in the great Vicksburg National park, was dean of the architects and acknowledged master builder of the world. He trained and taught many of the great architects and builders of America, was professor of architecture of the Unbiversity of Michigan—and died a comparatively poor man.
Dreamer Accomplished Wonders.
Jenney was a dreamer who did thingsl a man who built castles in the air as an architect, and, turning practical builder, did them in steel and stone. He did things other architects considered visionary. He set them gaping by constructing great buildings from the top down, or from the middle up; he calmly stuck steel smokestacks into office buildings, ignoring the cries of alarm; he acknowledged no precedent, but established half the existing precedents in modern building.
Of these things he was proud; but the great boast of his life was thus:
That he was the man who introduced American pumpkin pie to Paris.
Jenney was one of the early school of Chicagoans who did things. He really made Chicago possible, as a great city—he and the men he taught have erected practically all the towering skyscrapers of the world. He didn’t discover steel—but he discovered its greatest use.
Taught Architects of World.
Yet, except among architects and builders, he was little known in Chicago. Possibly he was as well known in Berlin, London, Vienna, Paris—in any great city—as he was in his own. Architects and builders from all over the world came to him to learn—and were taught. He might have made hundreds of millions by patenting his inventions, but he preferred to let the world progress. He gave every idea he had freely to his fellows, and to him money was but a minor consideration.
Kindly, gracious, considerate, even of the least of the draftsmen, jolly, and an authority on good eating, a lover of a good story, and teller of hundreds of them, friends of great men, and of the waiters who served him, he was beloved by all he met.
His democracy of action was as wide as his democracy of thought. A man of long ancestry and honored name, a student with Whistler and Du Marier in the Latin quarter of Paris, he would address the architects of the world on involved scientific propositions or slip out to the kitchen of his club and gravely instruct the chef in the art of preparing a certain pastry.
Deep Student of Events.
With all his activity he was one of the deepest students in Chicago, not only of architecture but of current events and literature, and almost to the day of his death he kept space of the times. He practically retired four years ago, but never formally retired. As an instance of his character;
Six years ago he was chosen to represent America before the world’s congress of architects at Madrid, and because it was in Spain he sat down and learned to write and speak in Spanish before starting. And that when over 70.
There was another trait of character which endeared him to his professional brothers, and to their usual enemies, the builders. He always gave a man a hearing, and if possible a chance, and it is said there are dozens of rich men in Chicago and New York today who owe their wealth to his interest and kindness. If he liked a student in his office or a draftsman he would stop his work and spend an hour or two teaching, instructing, explaining. He was a naturak teacher, able to impart his own knowledge to others, and his success in this line is evinced by the fact that scores of men who now are at the head of the architectural profession in America were trained under him.
Gives Opportunities to Workers.
He did not put a man on foundations and keep him building them all his life, assign another to plumbing and make him stick to it, another to steel and keep him there. Every man had a chance to learn all there was to be learned—if he knew it—and he turned out architects who not only took up his work but improved upon and added to it, at which he rejoiced.
It is said he never was jealous of any man, and it is doubtful if any architect jealous of him, which is unusual in that line.
But this is not a eulogy, but a story of how Jenney came to build skeleton steel buildings. It is necessary to tell all this, however, so that the man and his methods may be understood.
The first skeleton construction building ever erected was the Home Insurance building, which still stands as a model of that kind of work at Adams and La Salle streets. But even before that Mr. Jenney was seeking the idea. He wanted the maximum of light and was strivibg for it.
The key to Mr. Jenney’s great success was that he was botyh builder and architect, and had an intimate knowledge of materials. He had tried to get his maximum of light with stone, with wood, and had not succeeded because the materials would not properly carry the weight He decided on iron and steel.
Before he astounded the world with the Home Insurance building, he erected a building which was the forerunner of the skyscraper of today, He realized that “dark space brings no income,” and when he built the wholesale clothing store for Levi Z. Leiter, at the northwest corner of Monroe street and Fifth avenue, he took the first steo toward steel construction. That store was then one of the architectural wonders of Chicago, the cast iron mullions between the windows giving the desired result and enabling goods to be shown at every counter with outside light, Architects said it was a conservatory and never could be heated, but Jenney laughed.
Makes Moat of His Chance.
He was not satisfied. He believed iron and steel would solve the problem, and in 1883 he found the opportunity, and in the face of doubts of his fellows he built the Home Insurance building, founding a new era in city building. The Home company appointed him its architect, and instructed him to prepare designs for a tall fireproof office building at the northeast corner of La Salle and Adams streets. He was told to provide the maximum number of small offices above the second floor. He saw at a glance that neither brick nor stone would carry the load per unit of section. Architects often had built iron columns into masonry piers where the load was exceptionally great, and Mr. Jenney had done the same thing in the Fletcher & Sharo building at Indianapolis. The material solution of the problem was to make this construction general, and inclose an iron column within each of the small masonry piers, thus satisfying the three requirements—small piers, strong and fireproof.
The question of expansion and contraction of a column 150 feet high under the extreme variation of temperature, say 130° or more, from the hot sun in summer to excessive cold in winter, presented itself. A solution was found by Mr.Jenney by supporting the walls and floors of each story independently, story by story, on the columns, thus dividing the total movement into as many parts as there were stories.
Doubts Ignored; Plan Adopted.
The drawings were prepared, and the first design for a fireproofed skeleton construction was presented to the building committee of the Home company. They inquired:
- Where is such a building?
The architect replied: “Your building at Chicago will be the first.”
- How do you know it is good?
The architect proposed to submit his designs and calculations to bridge engineers. The design for the skeleton building resembled in many respects iron railroad bridges.
Gen. A. C. Ducat, one of the managers of the western department of the Home Insurance company, stated that he had been an engineer before he became an insurance man, and that he had carefully studied the designs oand the data for the calculations as presented by Mr. Jenney, and that they met his approval, both constructively and economically, and that he would suggest that they be adopted. The motion was carried unanimously, and the building commenced.
Mr. Jenney often stated that the question of applying for a patent occurred to him at the outset, but inasmuch as the first drawings for the skeleton construction seemed to him to be making general over an entire building what had been done in a single pier, he did not think the patent could be successfully defended. His only regret for not having made the application was that it would have established conclusively his priority.
Given New England Training.
William Le Baron Jenney was born at Fairhaven, Sept. 25, 1832. When 10 years old he went to Unity Scientific and Military academy at Unity, N.H., then to Phillips Andover. Evidently he was not a stay at home, for in 1849, seized with the gold fever, he persuaded his father to let him go around Cape Horn in one of his vessels, and thence around the work=ld. He sailed Sept. 2 on the Friendship and reached San Francisco Washington’s birthday, 1850, remaining there over three months. He was present when, on May 18, 1850, fire destroyed the city, and fifty-six years later he saw it in ashes again.
He went on to Manila, and it was there that he reached the turning point in his career, and also learned to smoke. Much struck with the possibility of Luzon, Mr. Jenney decided to buils railways across it, and, in his autobiography, he says:
- I then decided to go home and study engineering, and when prepared to take charge of work to return, It was my visit to Manila that caused me to become an engineer
He returned home, entered Lawrence Scientific school at Cambridge, Mass., but not being satisfied with the school sailed in June, 1853, and entered the Ecole Centrale de Art et Manufactures. Indeed, Mr. Jenney openly hinted that Mr. Du Maurier’s “Trilby” was but a story of the student lives of Du Maurier and the great painter, but when accused of being the “Little Billee,” he always made strenuous denials.
It was during his years of life in the Latin quarter that he introduced pumpkin pie into Paris. Mme. Busque had a little café in the Rue St. Pierre, where the students gathered, and where Jenney was one of the leading spirits. He and Whistler longed, as only New Englanders can long, for pumpkin pie, and one day Jenney vowed he would teach her to make the pies. The pumpkins were secured, Mme. Busque was instructed, and the party waited. The first attempt was a decided failure. Mme. Busque prepared the pumpkin, but served it in a soup tureen, without crusts, Jenney in his anxiety forgetting to mention crusts. Afterwards she learned, and her café became one of the most famous in Paris.
He traveled much in Europe and in 1856 returned to Fairhaven, shortly thereafter going to the isthmus of Tehuantepac as an engineer. He obtained charge of the railway work there in an odd manner. The French engineer in charge was a dandy, always scrupulously dressed, and one day, while he was attired in white, a big sow knocked him over. In his anger he declared he would not remain in that place and, putting Jenney in charge, he left.
Jenney returned to the United States in 1858 and was appointed engineer of the Bureau of American Securities, of which W. T. Sherman was president. He was associated with Sherman when the war started and was sent to Cairo, Ill., as second engineer, and constructed forts there. He was engineer at Forts Henry and Donaldson, at Shiloh, Corinth, and Vicksburg, and was with Sherman through to the sea.
Railroad Bridge Only Precedent.
The columns in the Home Insurance building were cast iron, The riveted columns of plates and angles and others were at that time thought too expensive. It was in this building that the first Bessemer steel beams were used.
In completing the details of construction—the assembling of the parts and the wind bracing—it was found necessary to invent special arrangements, the iron railroad bridge being the only precedent.
Since the Home Insurance building the most important improvement that has been made in this class of construction, now generally known as the Chicago construction or the steel skeleton construction, was the introduction of steel riveted columns, which are now made cheaply and in all respects thoroughly satisfactory. All the assembling at the building is done with hot steel rivets. Increased rigidity is secured as well as a material reduction of the weight of the columns. Steel riveted columns as now manufactured are considered perfectly safe with a coefficient of safety of four, while for cast iron columns a coefficient of safety of eight is not considered other than reasonably safe.
Builds to Resist High Winds.
In 1893 in the New York Life building Jennie & Mundie, architects, gussets plates were first used to take the wind pressure not otherwise provided for, usually about three-quarters of the whole, one-quarter bein taken by the floors and interior columns.
In the Home Insurance building the foundations below ground were of masonry, dimension and rubble stone resting on a thick bed of concrete, each column, interior and exterior, in the basement having its own independent foundation, the footing on the clay being loaded uniformly per square foor throughout the building. The soil being compressible, it was necessary to use great care in calculating the dead loads and the actual live loads that would obtain in order to secure as near as practicable absolute uniformity of load per square foot on the clay throughout the entire building. The success was demonstrated by the uniform settlement.
Steel Foundations Used for Rookery.
Immediately on completion of the Home Insurance building the Rookery was started, Burnham & Root, architects. Although a tall fireproof building, it has not a steel skeleton. There are no columns in the outside walls. The Rookery, however, claims the honor of being the first to use the steel foundations. The second building to use the skeleton construction was the Tacoma, Holabird & Roche, architects.
Mr. Jenney remained to the time of his death the strongest advocate of steel construction as a safeguard to life and property, and at the time of the (1906) San Francisco earthquake, although failing in health, he at once proceeded to San Francisco and made a minute examination of the ruins of the sky scrapers there, reporting enthusiastically to his confrères in Chicago that the only class of buildings in the town that stood the fire and earthquake test. His report in this particular was the first to reach the east after the disaster.
Prophecy Proved True.
His predictions regarding the safety of skeleton constructed buildings, made years ago in a paper read before an engineering society, is interesting in this connection. In it he says:
- Protection—I am not aware of any instance where a heavy cyclone or an earthquake struck a skeleton construction, but from all we know of these buidlings there is no fear but that they will pass these tests should they occur, with little of no harm to the skeleton. The windows, and even the masonry, might be shaken or blown in, but the skeleton will stand.
Lightning protection—The Home Insurance building was struck in a severe tempest. My office was in the top floor. The lightning struck the top of one of the columns just above the roof in a party wall bon the east. The only damage was in knocking off a few brick at the top of the columns. The draftsmen at work immediately under the point struck did not feel the shock.
Durability—The only test of any real value is that of time. As the first skeleton construction only dates from 1894, but little more can be said than that no material injury has as yet occurred.
The eyes of the architects and builders of the world were opened. During the world’s fairt year in Chicago thousands of architects from all over the world came to Chicago and watched with amazement the construction of the New York Life building.
Jenney Surprises Again.
It was during that construction that Jenney again surprised his fellows. Work was not progressing favorably and the contractors—the Fuller company—were fretting over delays. One day Jenney casually suggested that they put more men to work on masonry. The superintendent remarked that he had so many they were crowding each other. “Well,” remarked Jenney, “why not put on three shifts, one on the fifth floor, another on the eighth, and then build together. The Fuller company adopted the idea instantly and visitors were treated to the sight of seeing a building “built from the top down” for the first time, a process now used in all skeleton buildings. Visiting architects flocked to Jenney’s office and, so far from projecting his idea, he gave over forty sets of blue prints of the building.
Skeleton construction was adopted instantly—everybody adopted it—for the secret was solved. In one case it brought disaster; the collapse of the Ireland building in New York after which Mr, Jenney wrote a severe reproof of architects who brought disaster to use steel and iron without knowing their business.
Disaster No Check to Building.
But the disaster did not even check skeleton construction. Chicago began to shoot upward until the city became famous as the city of sky scrapers. Structural steel markets boomed, improvements were suggested and adopted, but through all the improvements Mr. plans for air spaces, for light wells, for elevators and for vaults have remained unchanged.
To understand Jenney and his method of working it is necessary to know the character of the man and his education. His was one of the Puritan families of Plymouth. Six of its members came over on the Mayflower and the Little James to Plymouth. John Jenney, the first of the American family, came from England in the Little James in July, 1623, and it is recorded that while he had been a brewer and baker in England and Holland, he became a builder in America. In 1636 the court at Plymouth gave him the privilege of building a mill on the town brook to grind and beat corn. John was, like his distinguished descendant, a landscape artist, for he was appointed to lay out the highways. Once he was fined for trading with Indians. His son, Samuel, however, was a wild blade. June 5, 1644, the court records show, “he was fined for strikig Thomas Dunham 3s 4d.” At the same time Dunham, for challenging Jenney to fight him and coming to his bed to do it, was fined 10s.
The family was prominent in New England for generations, the direct ancestor of Mr. Jenney settling at Fairhaven (then New Bedford), where they were whalers or owners of whaling vessels and rich, until petroleum wrecked them. A short time ago H. H. Rogers purchased the old mansion and erected a memorial church on it—thus oil for the second time overcoming the family.
Saves Section of Grant’s Army.
The story of how Jenney saved a section of Grant’s army at Shiloh not only illustrated his resourcefulness as an engineer but thrown an interesting sidelight on the great general.
Part of Grant’s troops, almost overwhelmed, were holding the river bank. It was imperative that they be brought across. Grant ordered Jenney to bring them. Jenney rode down, discovered some rusty, battered steamers which not had fire in them for weeks. There was no wood, coal, or other fuel. He rode to Grant and reported.
“What did I send you down there to do?” asked Grant quietly.
“Why,” stammered Jenney, “to bring those troops across.”
“Well,” rejoined Grant. “Go bring them.”
Jenney went. He had his order. First he tore away the upper works, wheelhouses, and decks, and fed them into the furnaces. Nothing more was in sight. Am inspiration seized him. He levied on the commissary stores—and he got up steam and brought those troops across by burning thousands of dollars’ worth of hams and crackers in the furnaces.
The hams and crackers were charged to Grant’s personal account, and he, as a joke, switched and charged it against Jenney’s salary—and it was cancelled after the war.
Begins His Work in Chicago.
Mr. Jenney came to Chciago in 1867 and started as engineer and architect, later forming the firm of Jenney, Schermerhorn & Bogart, the last named later being one of the most famous landscape men in the world. One of his first big works was to lay out and build the beautiful village of Riverside for Emery E. Childs of Philadelphia. Mr. Jenney planned the entire town, and his firm built most of it. He made his home there for years.
For the last three years his health had been declining gradually, and his time had been spent mostly in writing and compiling the family history.
The architects and builders of Chicago planned this week to design and have cast a bronze tablet in memory of Mr. Jenney, which is to be placed on the wall of the Home Insurance building, the first skeleton construction building in the world.
Chicago Tribune, October 25, 1931
BY PHILIP HAMPSON.
While architects, engineers, building experts and material men pick away at its sturdy old frame, examine every nook and cranny, take notes and collect bits of its body, what is possibly one of the most significant buildings In the world is fast disappearing from the sight of man. This is the famous old Home Insurance building at the northeast corner of Adams and La Salle streets, which wreckers are now engaged in reducing to a memory. It is to be replaced by the 42 story Field building.
The host of architects and others who are studying this building as it melts away under the picks of the wreckers are seeking to determine once and for all its claim to fame as the first structure of skyscraper construction- ever to be erected In the world. The popular definition of a skyscraper is said to be a building of skeleton framework, with the outer walls hung onto and carried by the framework instead of supporting themselves as under construction methods carried on down through the ages.
It was the introduction of the skeleton framework type of construction that made possible the cloud piercing giants of American cities.
A Long Controversy.
For a number of years a controversy has taken place as to whether the Home Insurance building or the Tacoma building was the first building of skyscraper type. The Home Insurance building, which was designed by William Le Baron Jenney, was completed In the fall of 1885, a few years prior to the Tacoma building. When the latter structure was torn down a few years back, the controversy flared up and has been going on ever since.
A committee was appointed some time ago to make a thorough study of the Home Insurance building and its findings will not be made known until the last brick has been carried away. However, some authorities assert that the results to date indicate that the Home Insurance claims to be the first skyscraper very likely will be substantiated.
For Instance, it has been stated that the masonry of an intermediary story could be removed without the masonry of the floors above falling out, giving indication of skyscraper wall construction. Masonry is carried on lintel beams which are supported by mullion columns, which are in turn supported two or three floors apart by rolled shapes.
Examine Metal Work.
Committees are examining the metal used in the framework. Steel is. found in the upper three stories, which were added some time after the main building was completed. There Is some doubt as to whether the material used in the floors between the sixth and ninth is steel or wrought iron. Below the sixth floor heavy wrought iron beams are found. Samples of the various metal materials are in the hands of laboratories for analysis.
But one thing stands out, and that is the honesty of the American materials and workmanship that went into this pioneer structure. Henry Penn, Chicago representative of the American Institute of Steel Construction, asserts that he found no deterioration in the metal work he has examined. It has been reported that deterioration was found In metal exposed to the air In the elevator shaft.
A. J. Clonick, president of A. Levine & Co., stated that all the several thousand tons of metal brought to his company’s yards is in first class condition as far an he can find. “So far as the metal work Is concerned the Home Insurance building could have remained standing until doomsday.” Mr. Clonick said.
Some of the beams have embossed on them the name Carnegie, Mr. Clonick said. The United States Steel corporation has taken one of the beams to Pittsburgh for its museum there.
In Rosenwald Museum.
A whole window bay taken from between the third and fourth floors Is to be installed In the architectural section of the Rosenwald Museuni of Science and Industry. The architec- tural section of tlie museum will dem- the art of building from the (lawn of civilization to the present time and the Home Insurance bay, measuring 16xl6 feet, will be installed Jn the department showing the birth and growth of the skyscraper.
It will likely be some weeks before the various committees studying the construction make their final reports. The main committee, which will decide the skyscraper construction claim, consists of the following:
Ernest R. Graham of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, architects for the Field building; W. B. Mundie, who helped design the Home Insurance building, ex officio member: Thomas E. Tallmadge, architect. (hairman; Charles B. Pike, president Chicago historical society; George , trustee of the Field estate, which is erecting the mammoth office building- A. H. Reborf, architect: Mark Levy. president Chicago Real Estate board: Earl H. Reed Jr., head ot the architectural department, Art Institute; Trent P. Sanford, representing the Rosenwald Museumn of Sclenwe and Industry, and Richard E. Schnidt, architect.
Chicago Tribune November 22, 1931
BY AL CHASE.
Chicago is the home of the world’s first skyscraper, and the Home Insurance building, recently demolished to make way for the huge forty-three story Field Building, has been awarded the honor of being the first structure ever to use the skeleton type of construction.
A controversy was definitely ended yesterday by Thomas E. Tallmadge, chairman of a committee appointed by the Marshall Field estate to decide which was the actual “first skyscraper,” the Tacoma building, completed in 1888, or the Home Insurance building, finished three years earlier, in 1885. He returned a verdict in favor of the latter.
First Skeleton Construction.
“We have no hesitation in stating that the Home Insurance building was the first high structure to utilize as its basic principle of its design the method known as skeleton construction,” the Talmadge report says, “and that there is much evidence that William Le Baron Jenney, the architect, in solving the particular problems of height and loads appearing in this building, discovered the true application of skeleton construction in the building of high structures and invented and here utilized for the first time its special forms.
“We are also of the opinion that owing to its priority and its immediate success and renown the Home Insurance building was in fact the primal influence of skeleton construction, the true father of the modern skyscraper.”
Findings Are Summarized.
The committee’s report summarizes its findings as follows:
- It must be kept in mind that this building was constructed during a transitional period and represented a real pioneering in the adaptation of metal framing to tall structures.
There was a complete skeleton framework, floor loads were carried by both interior and exterior columns, wall loads were transferred to columns and columns were supported on independent footings.
The fact that some of these elements existed in a rather primitive state, and the framework did not conform to our modern ideals of rigidity, should not be allowed to effect our judgement of a courageous and credible undertaking. We fare, therefore, in complete accord in recognizing the Home Insurance building as the first tall structure of metal skeleton construction.
The committee which made this decision was composed of:
- Ernest R. Graham of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, architects for the Field building; W. B. Mundie, who helped design the Home Insurance building, ex officio member: Thomas E. Tallmadge, architect. chairman; Charles B. Pike, president Chicago historical society; George Richardson, trustee of the Field estate, which is erecting the mammoth office building- A. H. Rebori. architect: Mark Levy. president Chicago Real Estate board: Earl H. Reed Jr.. head ot the architectural department, Art institute; Trent P. Sanford, representing the Rosenwald ‘Museumn of Sclenwe and Industry, and Richard E. Schnidt, architect.
Home Insurance Building
American architect Andrew Nicholas Rebori and colleagues examine the structure of the Home Insurance Building on its demolition in 1931.
Home Insurance Building
Robinson Fire Map
Home Insurance Building
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map