The Oldest Skyscrapers in Chicago

Editorial credit: Felix Lipov / The interior of the Rookery Building Chicago.
Editorial credit: Felix Lipov / The interior of the Rookery Building Chicago.

Between 1884 and 1939, American cities like Chicago and New York began the construction of tall commercial buildings making them the earliest skyscrapers. Traditionally, cities in the US comprised of low-rise establishments, but post-civil war economic growth prompted the use of urban land which in turn encouraged the establishment of skyscrapers from as early as the 1870s. Another factor that highly encouraged the growth of early skyscrapers was the advancement of technology with new inventions such as electric lighting and elevator. Such inventions made it commercially and technically possible for the construction of skyscrapers. Home Insurance Building was the first skyscraper built in Chicago, Illinois measuring about 138 feet tall; it was officially opened in 1884. By 1888 the numbers of tall establishments started growing rapidly, and they were named skyscrapers.

The Oldest Skyscrapers In Chicago

Early Skyscrapers In Chicago

The city of Chicago paved the way for the establishment of skyscraper designs many of which were built between the late 1880s and early 1890s. Skyscrapers in Chicago were mainly concentrated in the financial district. The skyscrapers were often referred as the products of the Chicago school of architecture. However, the construction of new skyscrapers more than 150 feet high within the city was banned in 1892 leaving New York City to develop taller buildings. During the 20th century, a new class of skyscrapers was being developed especially because of the continued demand for new office spaces. Due to the development of engineering techniques, it was easier for the construction of even taller buildings. The city of Chicago continued to build new skyscrapers in its existing style whereas New York moved on to tower designs.

1. Delaware Building

The Delaware Building is among Chicago's earliest skyscrapers built in 1872 located in the city's central business district. In an area where the modern style of architecture is dominant, Delaware Building is among the few buildings that have managed to maintain its old style. On July 18, 1974, the building was added to the list of National Register of Historic Places while on November 23, 1983, it was designated a Chicago Landmark.

2. Home Insurance Building

Originally measuring 138 feet, the Home Insurance Building located in the city of Chicago officially opened in 1884, but it was demolished in 1931 after 47 years. The building had ten floors, but two were added later on giving it 12 floors. Home Insurance Building is considered the first skyscraper to be supported, both inside and outside, by a fireproof metal frame. The building featured a weight bearing frame coupled up with the city's unique style of architecture.

3. Rookery Building

Located in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois in the Loop community area, Rookery Building was constructed in 1886 and completed in 1888. The building is 12 stories tall and measures 181 feet making it one of the oldest high-rise buildings within the city. On April 17, 1970, the Rookery Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, on July 5, 1972, it became a designated Chicago Landmark, and on May 15, 1975, it was listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Other Old Skyscrapers In Chicago

The city of Chicago has many old skyscrapers dating back to the late 1800s. Some of these buildings are still standing strong and functioning well while others have already been demolished. Of the 15 oldest skyscrapers in the city of Chicago, 10 are still standing while five were demolished and in their place, other facilities were established.

The Oldest Skyscrapers in Chicago

Rank´╗┐Building NameDate of ConstructionLocationStill standing?
1Delaware Building1862Chicago, IllinoisYes
2Home Insurance Building1884Chicago, IllinoisNo
3Rookery Building1886Chicago, IllinoisYes
4Dexter Building1887Chicago, IllinoisNo
5Tacoma Building1889Chicago, IllinoisNo
6Second Leiter Building1889Chicago, IllinoisYes
7Rand McNally Building1890Chicago, IllinoisNo
8Monadnock Building1891Chicago, IllinoisYes
9Masonic Temple Building1892Chicago, IllinoisNo
10Ludington Building1892Chicago, IllinoisYes
11Courthouse Place1893Chicago, IllinoisYes
12The Arc at Old Colony 1893Chicago, IllinoisYes
13New York Life Insurance Building1894Chicago, IllinoisYes
14Reliance Building1895Chicago, IllinoisYes
15Marquette Building1895Chicago, IllinoisYes

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