Today in History

Today in History: September 4

Daniel H. Burnham

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.

attributed to Daniel H. Burnham 1

Birds-eye view of Chicago.
Bird's Eye View of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893,
Rand McNally and Company, 1893.
Panoramic Maps, 1847-1929

Architect and city planner Daniel Hudson Burnham was born in Henderson, New York, on September 4, 1846. He moved with his family to Chicago nine years later. As a young man, Burnham worked in several Chicago architectural offices before joining fellow draftsman John Wellborn Root to establish a practice in 1873.

The firm of Burnham and Root soon became central to the pioneering Chicago School of architecture, known for transforming the late-nineteenth-century urban landscape. With such structures as the Rookery Building (1886-88), Reliance Building, (1890-94) and Monadnock Block (1891), Burnham and Root helped to invent the modern skyscraper, changing forever our city skylines.

Burnham and Root's prolific partnership ended in 1891 upon Root's death from pneumonia. At that time, they were working closely with landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted on the plan for Chicago's upcoming 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, for which Burnham served as chief of construction. Burnham coordinated the design and construction of an elaborate fairground replete with grand boulevards, classical building facades, and lush gardens. Noted artists including Mary Cassatt, Daniel Chester French, and Augustus St. Gaudens, as well as architects including Richard Morris Hunt, Louis Sullivan, and the firm of McKim, Mead and White, all contributed to plans for the Chicago’s World Fair. Burnham's "White City," as it came to be called, quickly popularized the neoclassical beaux-arts style in American architectural design.

After his triumph at the fair, Burnham's now-solo firm took on a variety of monumental projects including New York's dramatic Flatiron Building and Washington, D.C.'s Union Station and adjoining Post Office building. Burnham also expanded his involvement in city planning. His Washington, D.C. contributions, in fact, stemmed from his appointment as head of the Senate Park Commission, also known as the McMillan Commission. In 1901-02, the commission was charged with revitalizing Pierre Charles L'Enfant's plan for a monumental federal city. The resulting "McMillan Plan" laid the groundwork for the completion of Washington's National Mall and Monument Grounds as they are known today.

A leading proponent of the "City Beautiful" movement, Burnham presented his most ambitious work, the Plan of Chicago, in 1909. Coauthored with architect Edward H. Bennett, the plan anticipated by several decades the need to control random urban growth. The proposed system of city parks, civic buildings, commercial boulevards, transportation routes, and lakefront recreation areas not only influenced Chicago's development over many decades, but set the standard for U.S. urban planning in the modern age.

Chicago's Lake Front
Chicago's Lake Front,
Kaufmann & Fabry, 1938.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

1. Charles Moore, Daniel H. Burnham, Architect, Planner of Cities, II (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1931), 147. (Return to text)

The Town of the Queen of Angels

Los Angeles as it appeared in 1871
Los Angeles as it Appeared in 1871,
Panoramic Maps

On September 4, 1781, the eleven men, eleven women, and twenty-two children recruited by Alta California Governor Felipe de Neve founded El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles (The Town of the Queen of the Angels). They had gathered in August at the Mission San Gabriel in New Spain (present-day Mexico) and traveled together to arrive at the site of the new pueblo alongside the Los Angeles River.

Located between the San Gabriel Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, El Pueblo, as it was called, remained independent of the United States until the Mexican War in 1846, when the city was taken in a bloodless effort by U.S. forces. On April 4, 1850, the city was incorporated as Los Angeles and designated the county seat of Los Angeles County.

The city grew considerably with the arrival of the railroad in the mid-1870s allowing both the easy export of agricultural products and an influx of immigrants. During the 1880s, the population of Los Angeles more than quadrupled—increasing from approximately 11,200 in 1880 to 50,400 by 1890, and then doubling to 102,500 by 1900.

For the stranger Los Angeles is the place to go to see a new play, or marvel at the display of fruits seen at a citrus fair—forts made of thousands of oranges, and railroad stations and crowns of lemons, etc.—and admire a carnival of flowers, or for a day's shopping; but there are better spots in which to remain. I found the night air extremely unpleasant last winter, and after hearing from a veracious druggist, to whom I applied for a gargle, that there was an epidemic of grip in the city, and that many died of pneumonia and that a small majority of the invalids got well, I packed my trunk hastily and started for Pasadena.

Kate Sanborn, A Truthful Woman in Southern California, 1893.
California as I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849-1900

Panorama along Broadway Street, Los Angeles, showing City Hall
Panorama along Broadway St., Los Angeles, showing City Hall,
Pettit’s Studio, photographer,
March 11, 1946.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

As the city continued to grow in the new century, planners sacrificed several thousand acres of farmland for highways and housing. Los Angeles, once the nation's wealthiest agricultural county, now derives its wealth from trade and transportation, manufacturing, tourism, finance and banking, and the entertainment industry.