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William LeBaron Jenney, Father of the American Skyscraper

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Leiter Building (II)

Leiter Building (II)

Photo © Mary Ann Sullivan
Famous for his large commercial buildings, William LeBaron Jenney helped launch the Chicago School of architecture and pioneered skyscraper design.

Born:

September 25, 1832 in Fairhaven, Massachusetts

Died:

June 15, 1907

Education:

  • Engineering courses at Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University
  • Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in Paris, 1853-1856

Important Buildings:

Related People:

Early Years:

Born into a family of ship owners, William Le Baron Jenney grew up to become an inventor of building technologies. During the Civil War he served as an engineering officer, but by 1868 he was a practicing architect who had designed a Swiss Chalet style home with an innovative open floor plan - long before Frank Lloyd Wright worked with the concept.

Urban Design:

In addition to his building designs, Jenney made a name for himself as a town planner. With Olmsted and Vaux, he helped create the plan for Riverside, Illinois. Working in Chicago, Jenney designed West Parks, where tree-lined boulevards connect an extensive system of connecting parks.

Most Important Contribution:

Jenney's greatest fame came from his large commercial buildings. His Home Insurance Building in Chicago was one of the first buildings to use a metal skeleton for support. It became the standard for American skyscraper design. Jenney's skeleton-frame Manhattan Building was the first to achieve a height of 16 stories. His Horticultural Building was the largest botanical conservatory ever built.

Student draftsmen who learned from Jenney included Daniel H. Burnham, Louis Sullivan, and William Holabird. For this reason, Jenney is considered the founder of the Chicago School of architecture, and the father of the American skyscraper.

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