The Skyscraper Revolutionizes Industry
In l885 the careers of Philip Armour and Andrew Carnegie crossed in ways unknown to them. That year the Chicago architect, William Le Baron Jenney, was building the world's first metal-frame skyscraper, when a load of steel beams arrived from one of Carnegie's Pittsburgh mills. Jenney was persuaded by the company's local salesman that lightweight structural steel could be used as effectively in skyscrapers as it was being used in suspension bridges, like the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the supreme engineering achievements of the age.
After receiving permission from his client, the Home Insurance Company, Jenney substituted steel for iron beams on the top stories of the skyscraper he was constructing. It was the beginning of a new type of city- one never seen before, a skyscraper city built of steel. When the building was completed, Philip Armour moved in, transferring his corporate offices from the stockyards to plush offices in the center of downtown Chicago. It was an important moment in American capitalism.
A great transformation was underway, in capitalism and the city: the separation of management from production, and the rise of the big city as the headquarters of America's biggest corporations. These changes, as we'll see, would bring forward new types of corporate leaders; capitalists more familiar with high finance than with work on the plant floor. But in the last decades of the l9th century, when Philip Armour was operating at full stride, the city that best represented America, and its unique form of buccaneering capitalism, was Chicago. In these years, Chicago, the city that invented a new way of making things, would invent a new type of city.