1. Ask students how many flights of stairs they have climbed at one time, the tallest building they’ve ever been in, etc.
2. Explain that until the 1880s, few buildings were taller than 10 stories because the only way to build them was with brick and mortar and really thick lower walls to support the upper floors.
3. Have them speculate about the things architects and builders need to consider as they plan tall buildings. Keep the list on the board.
4. Divide the class into 4 groups and assign the following topics, one to a group:
- Bessemer process (Henry Bessemer)
- George Fuller and the Tacoma Building (1889) and the Flatiron Building (1902)
- Elisha Graves Otis and the hydraulic elevator
- “Steel skeleton” construction technique
5. Have students research the topics and prepare a report that answers the question: What is the technological innovation and how did it contribute to the development of skyscrapers?
See David Maccaulay’s The Way Things Work, for a discussion of elevators, escalators, steel, iron, heating, cooling, use of glass, etc.
This lesson was developed by Bette Brooks, Kent State University.