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Louis Sullivan at 150 Years
Celebrating Louis Sullivan's 150th Anniversary

In 2006, the Chicago History Museum led a six-week series of public programs to mark the 150th anniversary of Louis Sullivan's birth. The culminating event was the Louis Sullivan at 150 International Symposium, held at the Museum. Click here to access audio recordings of the symposium presentations, including the keynote address by Jean-Louis Cohen.

This website serves as a record of the celebration and provides an extensive overview of Louis Sullivan's life and career. Click here to find out more about the programs held throughout Chicago to mark Sullivan's sesquicentennial.

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Biography

Born in Boston on September 3, 1856, Louis Sullivan started his life in a culturally and intellectually rich environment. Sullivan’s family lived in Boston, but frequently visited his grandparents’ farm in South Reading (now Wakefield). Sullivan developed a love of urban culture, architecture, and the natural world that would inspire him throughout his life and career. When his parents moved to Chicago in 1868, he remained with his grandparents in order to study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Sullivan began his career working for the architect Frank Furness in Philadelphia. When the economic depression of 1873 caused a drop in commissions for the firm, Sullivan was let go. Subsequently, Sullivan moved to Chicago, prompted by the many opportunities for architects and builders available after the Great Fire of 1871. In Chicago, Sullivan worked for a year under William LeBaron Jenney, architect of the Home Insurance Building, Chicago’s first skyscraper. Later, he forged a partnership with John Edelman, the architect who would introduce him to Dankmar Adler. Adler hired Sullivan in 1880. Sullivan quickly became a full partner in the firm.

After a successful 15-year partnership, Adler left the firm in 1895. The quality of Sullivan’s work did not seem to suffer significantly, and in 1896 he published his famous article, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered.” Over time, his commissions dwindled, and the size of his firm slowly diminished. Sullivan’s last great work was the Carson Pirie Scott Building (1899 to 1904). Following the completion of the store, Sullivan struggled to make a living designing a series of small Midwestern banks and other modest projects. He also received a commission to produce a series of ornamental drawings. The book was published under the title, A System of Architectural Ornament. In 1909, Mary Azona Hattabaugh, known as Margaret, left him after ten years of marriage. They had no children.

Louis Sullivan died in Chicago on April 14, 1924, shortly after completing A System of Architectural Ornament and Autobiography of an Idea, his effort to document his own life and the development of his thinking about architecture. He was buried beside his parents in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery. Coincidentally, his grave stone is located near the Ryerson and Getty tombs he had designed decades earlier.


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Louis H. Sullivan, 1890.
R&B Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago

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This site is supported by a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.