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The History of Construction | The Second Industrial Age

December 16, 2020

While we learned in our last blog post that the first industrial age saw manufactured iron and steam technology, the second industrial age gave us steel and electric inventions. During the Second Industrial Revolution, construction began to catch up to our modern practices with innovations that made work easier and buildings stronger.

Steel Production & Structures

Beginning around 1880, mass production of steel started for the purpose of building railroads in the western world. Soon after, steel was used to build the legendary Eiffel Tower during the Paris Exposition in 1887. Built by Gustav Eiffel, the tower stood 1000 feet high. No other building surpassed its height until the Chrysler Building was built in New York in 1929. The Eiffel Tower remains France’s most iconic symbol. While symbolic buildings like the Eiffle Tower were the centre of attention, there was an even bigger innovation in the works: high-rise steel buildings.

Steel High-Rise Buildings

In North America, there was the stress of rising land value. Building owners in the 1880s were demanding taller buildings, so that they could build up to capitalize on the high cost of owning land. In Chicago, William Le Baron Jenney constructed the 10-story building Home Insurance Company Building. The building included two floors where supporting columns were made of steel, and the rest of the frame was iron. This was the first large-scale use of steel in the construction of a building.

Jenney then built the Ludington Building and the Fair Stone Building between 1891-1892, both of which were constructed with a complete steel frame. Since steel frames are an effective way to make a tall, sturdy building, this method is still widely used today.

Electric On The Job Site

By 1895, high rise development saw further progress with the implementation of the electric-powered elevator. But the process of high-rise construction itself improved, as well. We saw the introduction of the Internal-Combustion Engine at the worksite. The Internal-Combustion Engine was mostly used to power lifts, which were crucial for building high-rises. It replaced horses or human strength, which would have done the heavy lifting with the help of a pulley system. This caused a huge rush of new high-rise buildings, since they could now be built faster. But this rush was soon stopped by the Great Depression and World War II. High-rise construction stagnated until the late 1940s.

Concrete Construction

In this time, we saw a return to concrete construction, which had previously been common in Roman times. Concrete started to become an integral part of building – something we still see today in modern building. The concrete itself was changed with the introduction of new ingredients. Joseph Aspdin patented the first artificial cement, which he called Portland cement. This is still widely used in modern construction. In fact, it is the most common type of cement used today, as it is the most basic ingredient in concrete, mortar, stucco and grout. Portland cement is made by burning and mixing limestone and clay or shale.

Reinforced Concrete

Reinforced concrete was an important advancement in construction. The first innovation was the shear wall as a method to strengthen concrete building frames. Shear walls are structural panels that can resist lateral forces. This reduces the overall sway of high-rise buildings and improves the stability of the structure. In 1958, Milton Schwartz and Henry Miller used shear walls to construct the Executive House in Chicago, which was 39 stories and 371 feet tall.

The second industrial age revolutionized building materials and the way we construct buildings, particularly high-rises. There was an increased demand for higher structures and more advanced building techniques. Building sciences had to adapt to new methods to allow the safe construction of these structures reaching new heights.

Author: Stephani Hnetinka

Stephani is a Marketing Assistant who has been working with Modu-Loc Fence Rentals since 2018. She enjoys writing about construction, and loves anything and everything to do with temporary fencing solutions.
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