Born from Awe: Origins of the First Skyscrapers

Sam Lai
Project Director, General Manager
Sun Hung Kai Properties Limited, Hong Kong

The word “skyscraper” was born from awe of exceptional heights. The early 1880s (or possibly even the late 1870s) marked the first time the word “skyscraper” was used for exceptionally high buildings. Several newspresentation articles from 1883 bear witness to that and identify some 15 “veritable” skyscrapers by name. Among these: the Equitable Building (1870), the Western Union Building (1875), and the Tribune Building (1875) in New York, and the Montauk Block (1882) and the Calumet Block (1883) in Chicago. The main features shared by all the buildings provide the foundation for the definition of the “skyscraper” : “A skyscraper is an exceptionally high building with many floors that can be used to work, live or stay (i.e., occupiable floors).” In the 1880s, “exceptionally high” would be around 35 meters or more; “many floors” would be eight or more.

This presentation provides an inventory of “first skyscrapers” as defined above in different regions of the world: North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Central and Northern Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania, with information on, as well as early photographs of each of these skyscrapers.

Accompanying PowerPoint Presentation

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