Sunday, March 6, 2011


Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago surrounds us. Defines us. Many of us walk by or into Burnham buildings every day. His presence in Chicago is palpable. He seems quite close. Part of our immediate history. We are fooled. He is not.

Daniel Burnham was born on September 4, 1846.

His grandparents were active in the American Revolution. Saw the Louisiana Purchase. His father and mother were contemporaries of the War of 1812. Daniel's own birth date roughly coincides with the Annexation of Texas and the Mexican War.   In 1846 the United States of America consisted of 29 states. Iowa had just joined the Union.

1846. That was during the Tyler Administration, that took its place after the untimely death of William Henry Harrison (old Tippecanoe -- who saved Indiana from the Indians in 1811.) Before telephones, radio and railroads. Electricity. Rigid frame construction. Elevators. Skyscrapers.

Below is a time line of Daniel Burnham's youth.

1846 Daniel Burnham born in Henderson, New York. the sixth of seven children.

1854 Burnham Family moves to Chicago.

xxxx Daniel is enrolled in Snow's Swedenborg Academy

xxxx Daniel is enrolled in Central High School

1861 Daniel Volunteers to fight in the Civil War. Enlists in the Nineteenth Illinois Infantry.

1861 Edwin Burnham "de-enlists" Daniel.

1863 Daniel sent to the New Church School in Waltham, Massachusetts kept by Reverend  Joseph Worcester

1865 Daniel sent to Bridgewater, Massachusetts to be tutored by Harvard graduate, Tilley Brown Hayward.

1866 Daniel is introduced to architect William P. P. Longfellow.

1867 Daniel "chokes" at the Harvard and Yale entrance exams.

1868 Daniel returns to Chicago and works for William LeBaron Jenney

1868 Daniel prospects for silver in White Pine County, Nevada

1870 Daniel works briefly for John Van Osdel, H. B. Wheelock and Gustave Laurau.

1872 Daniel works for Carter, Wight and Drake

1873 Daniel forms partnership with John Root.

1876 Daniel marries Margaret Sherman

There is an interesting story associated with each of these dates. (And the times in between) (More on this to follow). An even more interesting story is how this 19th Century man moved so easily into our Twentieth.


In Daniel's early years, his mother, Elizabeth seems to be the Burnham family's moving force.  And living well into the 1890's she continued to play an important part of Daniel's life.



  1. Thanks for all of the ink on a guy who gets too easily dismissed by folks who should know better. In a very real way, Burnham made this great city what it is. Throughout his work (especially his planing) there is the constant influence of his early upbringing . . . that somehow one has a responsibility to make the world a better place. You are doing a great job of showing us that. Thanks again.

  2. We should ALL have a little more of Swedenborg and a lot more of Elizabeth - thanks for your kind words and for reading the posts.