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