Jenney left Harvard to study architecture at the prestigious École Centrale Paris, then the world’s most prominent architectural school. He graduated one year after Gustave Eiffel, builder of the Eiffel Tower.
After time spent in the army, Jenney opened an architecture firm in Chicago. Urban legend is that while speaking to his wife, she set a book down upon a birdcage. Despite the weak metal, the cage easily held the weight of the book.
Designed in the right shape metal could support a building far larger than heavier building materials, like wood, masonry or stone, Jenney reasoned. Besides being taller and lighter, the steel buildings would be more resistant to fire.
In 1885, Jenney built the world’s first modern steel frame skyscraper, the Home Insurance Building in Chicago. Originally built ten stories tall, two more stories were added later but the building demolished in 1931.
As of 2019, the 828-meter Burj Khalifa uses essentially the same technique. Planned buildings will top one kilometer and even one mile (1.6km).