Many mechanical and structural developments in the last quarter of the 19th cent. contributed to its evolution. With the perfection of the high-speed elevator after 1887, skyscrapers were able to attain any desired height. The earliest tall buildings were of solid masonry construction, with the thick walls of the lower stories usurping a disproportionate amount of floor space. In order to permit thinner walls through the entire height of the building, architects began to use cast iron in conjunction with masonry. This was followed by cage construction, in which the iron frame supported the floors and the masonry walls bore their own weight.
The next step was the invention of a system in which the metal framework would support not only the floors but also the walls. This innovation appeared in the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, designed in 1883 by William Le Baron Jenney—the first building to employ steel skeleton construction and embody the general characteristics of a modern skyscraper. The subsequent erection in Chicago of a number of similar buildings made it the center of the early skyscraper architecture. In the 1890s the steel frame was formed into a completely riveted skeleton bearing all the structural loads, with the exterior or thin curtain walls serving merely as an enclosing screen.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.