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William LeBaron Jenney

Photo credit: Chicago History Museum
William LeBaron Jenney Photo credit: Chicago History Museum
Photo credit: Chicago History Museum
The Home Insurance Building (demolished 1931) Photo credit: Chicago History Museum

Considered “the father of the American skyscraper,” William LeBaron Jenney is credited with implementing the use of a metal skeleton frame system to bear the weight of a building’s exterior walls. His work made the modern skyscraper possible.

Before Jenney’s structural engineering innovation, masonry exterior walls were “load bearing.” This approach required massive stone or brick bulk at a building’s base — and limited the height a structure could achieve. The Monadnock and Auditorium buildings in Chicago are examples of load-bearing masonry construction.

Jenney’s nine-story Home Insurance Building, completed in 1885, was the first building fully framed with metal columns and beams, and so is considered to be the first skyscraper. It was demolished in 1931. Another Jenney structure, the 16-story Manhattan Building, completed in 1891, still stands at 431 South Dearborn Street.