Meet the World’s First Skyscraper. The Eight of Them.

Meet the World’s First Skyscraper. The Eight of Them.

If you want to know what was the first skyscraper, all you need to do is travel back in skyscraper history and the last building you find is the first skyscraper.

Well, if it only was that easy.

As much as the skyscraper is a term that is as much defined by appearance and interpretation as by quantifiable thresholds, there is no such thing as an undisputed first skyscraper, or better put, a tall building that incorporates for the first time all design strategies and innovations that are deemed essential to build a skyscraper. And that’s very good news because it means that the topic is filled with opinions, stories and all that may keep you busy for days on end. For those interested, Wikipedia’s page on Early Skyscrapers is actually quite good.

Today we look at a few buildings that arguably have been considered the first skyscraper in the world by at least one person of some merit. Two of these are based on the appearance of the skyscraper, six on the first application of a technological advancement of the elevator or steel frame construction. Here they are in chronological order of completion:

Flaxmill Maltings in Ditherington, Shrewsbury, UK (1797)
The first iron-framed building in the world

flaxmillimage source: Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings

Jayne Building in Philadelphia (1850)
The first building of height desire.


Haughwout Building in New York (1857)
The first commercial building to employ a passenger elevator.

haughwoutimage source: free-stock-illustration

Cooper Union Building in New York (1858)
The first building that had an elevator and used steel beams in it structure.

cooper_unionimage source: wikipedia

Equitable Life Assurance Building in New York (1870)
The first building where a passenger elevator was an original feature of the design.

equitable_life_assuranceimage source: wikipedia

Tribune Building in New York (1875)
The first building to use elevators and the first to show the number of stories of the building on the exterior. Also a previous world’s tallest.


Home Insurance Building in Chicago (1885)
The first building to have a load-bearing steel frame embedded in the masonry.


Since the Home Insurance Building is mostly albeit not universally agreed upon when it comes to the first skyscraper, this one could wrap up the list. But looking at the seven buildings, one could argue that none of them look like real skyscrapers. J. Carson Webster muses that when it comes to tallness based on a 20th-century perception, perhaps the building below ought to be considered as a first.

Masonic Temple in Chicago (1895)
The first building with the height and look of a proper skyscraper


Having eight candidates, that off course makes a great number to toss them into a tournament and have the skyscraper fans have their say which one is The First. Starting August 3, we’ll found out in about a month! 

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  • Peter Kelly

    great article, thanks. How about this one – 1855 Victoria Tower London. 12/14 floors, iron frame. Does it count? Once the worlds tallest square tower

    • Jan Klerks

      Hi Peter, thanks for the suggestion. That’s actually a very good one. Even though the Victoria Tower is being called a ‘tower’ and not the Victoria Building, it seems to have habitable floors. site has an interesting virtual tour of the tower: In the mean time I’ll go and do some more research on the “tallest building” status.