Burnham and Root was one of Chicago’s most famous architectural companies of the nineteenth century. It was established by John Wellborn Root and Daniel Hudson Burnham.
During their eighteen years of partnership, Burnham and Root designed and built residential and commercial buildings. Their success was crowned with the coordination of the World’s Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair) in 1893. The two men met when they worked as apprentice draftsman in the offices of Drake, Carter, and Weight in 1872. A year later they established their own architecture office and began work by building private residences for the wealthy elite of Chicago’s meat industry.
The most significant buildings designed by Burnham and Root were built in the late 1880s and early 1890s. That is when Root’s designs actually paved the way for modern day skyscrapers. Until then, buildings relied on exterior masonry for support limiting their height to 12 stories. The invention of steel support beams gave him the possibility to build higher and to add more windows. The Rand McNally Building, completed in 1890, was the first ever steel-framed skyscraper in the world. Another characteristic of his designs that revolutionized modern architecture is his invention of the urban office block floor plan as we know it. As commissions multiplied, Burnham and Root had the opportunity to experiment and refine their style to create an entirely new aesthetic that was free of historical or European influences. Such buildings as the Great Northern hotel (1892), the Argyle and the Pickwick demonstrate Root’s singular style.
Root died in 1891 and following his success and the loss of his business partner, Burnham continued to operate under the name D. H. Burnham and Co. The projects begun by Root were completed, including the Masonic Temple in 1892, which was for a short period the tallest building in the world at 22 stories. It is then that Burnham’s architectural talent became the driving force of the business, resulting in such iconic buildings such as the Flatiron Building in New York City. Burnham was unable to maintain the architectural progress made by Root, but he demonstrated great versatility in his style.