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Top 11 Famous Early Skyscrapers

The first famous skyscrapers were constructed in the United States, specifically in Chicago and New York City.

The economic boom in the period following the American Civil War (1861-1865) and the subsequent urbanization required high-rise buildings to be constructed. Early skyscrapers were first constructed in Chicago in the 1880s.

This city, however, imposed a limit on buildings of up to 46 meters (150 feet) in 1892 which shifted the focus of high-rise structures to New York.

When the need for office space tremendously increased in the early 20th century, many of the tallest buildings in the world were being built.

The period that ended this wave of the first skyscrapers was the Great Depression in the 1930s. This is emphasized by the fact that one of New York’s most iconic landmarks remained the tallest building for nearly 4 decades.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most famous early skyscrapers in history, buildings that were constructed between the 1880s and the 1930s.

1. Rookery Building

The Rookery Building is one of the many historic office buildings that was constructed in Chicago during the 1880s. Although the building only has 12 floors and a height of 55 meters (181 feet), it’s considered to be the oldest skyscraper in Chicago that still stands today.

It has been a revolutionary building in the history of architecture for several reasons. It was one of the first buildings in history that featured exterior load-bearing walls. This allowed for a steel structural exterior which is way more efficient in designing spacious areas. It has been a National Historic Landmark since 1975.

Early Skyscrapers Rookery Building in Chicago
The Rookery Building in Chicago / Jay Galvin / Wiki Commons

2. Flatiron Building

The Flatiron Building is a world-famous building in New York city that owes its name to the distinctive shape in which it was designed. This building was completed in 1902 and the area in which it’s located is now known as the Flatiron District of Manhattan.

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It features 22 floors and has a height of 86.9 meters (285 feet) which made it one of the tallest buildings in New York City at the time. In modern terms, this doesn’t even qualify as a skyscraper because new buildings have to have a height of at least 100 meters (330 feet) to be defined as such.

Flatiron Building in New York City
The Flatiron Building in New York City / Sharonlflynn / Wiki Commons

3. Monadnock Building

The Monadnock Building is another historically important building in Chicago and was completed between 1891 and 1893. Although it only features 16 floors and has a height of 66 meters (215 feet), it’s an enormous structure with a façade length of 130 meters (420 feet).

What’s amazing about this building is that it’s the tallest load-bearing brick structure ever constructed. Because of this, it was possible to integrate a portal system of wind bracing which allowed for open floors. This significantly increased the floor space of the building and served as a great inspiration for future office buildings.

Monadnock Building in Chicago
Monadnock Building in Chicago / Ken Lund / Wiki Commons

4. Met Life Tower

The Met Life Tower is the common name of a building officially known as the “Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower.” It’s located at madison Avenue in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, just a few blocks east of the iconic Flatiron Building.

The building consists of two sections, a large block known as the East Wing and a distinctive tower that dominates the skyline in this area. This tower was completed between 1905 and 1909 and has a height of 210 meters (700 feet). It was the tallest building in the world between 1909 and 1913 and it remains a fascinating landmark in NYC today.

First Skyscrapers Met Life Tower in New York
The Met Life Tower in New York / Eden, Janine, and Jim / Wiki Commons

5. Woolworth Building

The Woolworth Building is a Gothic Revival building that was completed between 1910 and 1913. It’s located at 233 Broadway in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan. It was one of the ultimate masterpieces of renowned American architect Cass Gilbert (1859-1934), an important figure in the construction of early skyscrapers.

The building stands 241 meters (792 feet) tall and it was the highest building in the world for nearly 2 decades between 1913 and 1930. The Gothic elements make it one of the most distinctive buildings in the city and it Historic a National Historic Landmark since 1966.

Woolworth Building in New York CIty
Woolworth Building in New York City / Aude / Wiki Commons

6. 40 Wall Street

40 Wall Street is another Gothic Revival skyscraper that is located on Wall Street in the financial district of Manhatten, New York City. This building was constructed around the time that the Wall Street Crash of 1929 happened as it was completed between 1929 and 1930.

The building served as the headquarters of the Manhatten Company, a former bank that merged with Chase Manhatten Bank in 1955. It stands 283 meters (927 feet) and was inspired by the Woolworth Building. It was one of the earliest skyscrapers to incorporate a large number of setbacks into its design.

40 Wall Street Building
40 Wall Street / Michael Zanussi / Wiki Commons

7. Tribune Tower

The Tribune Tower is a testimony to the fact that incorporating Gothic elements into skyscrapers was very popular during the first decades of the 20th century. This skyscraper in Chicago is located in the heart of the city at Michigan Avenue and its ne-Gothic design was the result of an architectural competition.

Completed between 1923 and 1925, it served as the headquarters of the Chicago Tribune newspaper for multiple decades. The distinctive skyscraper stands 141 meters (463 feet) tall and incorporates the Gothic features known today as the “American Perpendicular Style.”

Tribune Tower in Chicago
The Tribune Tower in Chicago / Ken Lund / Wiki Commons

8. Terminal Tower

Terminal Tower is the centerpiece of Public Square in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. It was constructed between 1926 and 1927 and emphasizes the fact that early skyscrapers weren’t limited to Chicago and New York City. The Roaring Twenties also resulted in a skyscraper boom in other cities in the United States.

The building reaches a height of 235 meters (771 feet) above the ground below, a height that made it the second-tallest building in the world upon completion. Equally remarkable is the fact that it was the tallest building in North America outside of New York between 1927 and 1964, quite a fascinating record.

Terminal Tower in Cleveland Ohio
The Terminal Tower in Cleveland / Erik Drost / Wiki Commons

9. Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is a huge Art Deco Building that became the tallest building in the world in 1930, a record it held until the completion of the former World Trade Centre in 1970. It surpassed the Chrysler Building in the unofficial “Race to the Sky” just before the Great Depression and stands 443.2 meters (1,454 feet) tall.

Although this has been one of the most iconic buildings ever constructed, it also marked the end of the construction of very tall buildings in the United States for multiple decades. The Great Depression and subsequent World War II halted the great projects that define the urban landscape today. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Empire State Building First and early skyscrapers
The Empire State Building in New York City / Sam Valadi / Wiki Commons

10. Fisher Building

The Fisher Building is a historic skyscraper and one of the most famous buildings in Detroit. It’s the centerpiece of the New Center area of the city and was completed in 1928. It’s one of the most celebrated works by renowned architect Albert Kahn, a man who shaped the current urban landscape in the city.

The Art Deco skyscraper was inspired by the skyscrapers that were constructed in New York City at the time. It’s clad with various types of materials, including limestone, granite, and marble. This amazing tower has been a National Historic Landmark since 1989.

Fisher Building in Detroit
The Fisher Building in Detroit / Andre Carrotflower / Wiki Commons

11. Kavanagh building

The Kavanagh building is a fascinating skyscraper in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina. This historic building is located in the Retiro District in the northeastern part of the city. It was completed between 1934 and 1936 and stands 120 meters (390 feet) tall. This made it the tallest building in Latin America upon completion.

This structure was one of the first major skyscrapers outside of the United States. It’s considered to be one of the most important skyscrapers of International Style architecture but also features a lot of features that can be classified as Art Deco. It was the tallest building in the world using reinforced concrete and is one of the most popular landmarks in Buenos Aires.

Kavanagh Tower Buenos Aires
Kavanagh building in Buenos Aires / Deensel / Wiki Commons