Dankmar Adler was born in Eisenach, Germany, on July 3, 1844. Because his mother died during childbirth, his father chose the name Dankmar, which means “bitter thanks.” At the age of ten, Adler and his father immigrated to Detroit, Michigan. Dankmar entered public schools but did not excel in his studies. He was unable to get into college and instead received private drawing instruction, which led to his interest in architecture. Adler’s father placed him with local architect John Schaeffer as an apprentice. During his apprenticeship, Adler learned the conventional five orders and spent much time drawing ornament in the Byzantine and Romanesque styles.
In mid-1861, Adler’s father was named rabbi of Kehilath Anshe Ma'ariv Synagogue in Chicago. The two relocated to the city and Dankmar began his search for employment as an architect. After less than a year of searching with little result, Adler enlisted in the Illinois Light Artillery to fight in the Civil War, serving between 1862 and 1864. Upon his discharge from the service, he returned to Chicago. Although he was doing well with solo architectural work through the late 1860s, to meet the increased demands for architectural services following the Great Fire of 1871, Adler formed a partnership with Edward Burling.
His success in architecture allowed Adler to marry Dila Kohn in 1872. Kohn was the daughter of Abraham Kohn, founder of the Kehilath Anshe Ma'ariv Synagogue where Adler’s father was the rabbi. After almost eight years working with Burling, Adler opened his own firm in 1879. He achieved moderate success in this endeavor, due in great part to his keen understanding of acoustics and how they related to architecture. To bolster this success, Adler invited Louis Sullivan to join the firm in 1880 and announced their partnership in 1883. The two became extremely successful and designed approximately 180 buildings over their 15-year partnership. Adler died suddenly of a stroke at the age of 56, on April 16, 1900.
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