Monuments of a Vanished Prosperity - Table of Contents

Part III

Monuments of a Vanished Prosperity: Buffalo's Grain Elevators and the Rise and Fall of the Great Transnational System of Grain Transportation
Published in
Reconsidering Concrete Atlantis:  Buffalo Grain Elevators. L. Schneekloth (ed.). 
Buffalo, NY: The Urban Design Project and the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, 2007, 17-42.

By Francis R. Kowsky

Note: This reprinting of the 2002 nomination excludes footnotes and includes some bold text and brown color text for easier reading.


Part III: 1890s to 1930s: The Evolution of the Modern Elevator

Buffalo's Leading Position in the Wheat Trade, 1890 to 1929

"It is evident that, considering both primary and secondary markets," says grain trade historian Peter Sweeney, "Buffalo was the leading wheat market of the United States" for the first three decades of the twentieth century.

The establishment of the wheat growing in the Northwest and the pattern of grain shipment from that region to Buffalo accounted this success. Grain receipts continued to increase during the boom years of the 1920s, after which a long and steady decline set in.

In 1900, the city handled 111,000,000 bushels of wheat; by 1928 the quantity had risen to 280,000,000 bushels.

However, after 1944 a precipitous decline in grain receipts took place. The reasons were complex, but the drying up of the grain trade here was due to such factors as the rise of Pacific coasts ports, such as Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland in the United States and Vancouver in British Columbia, the improvement of the Welland Canal and the Oswego Canal, which allowed more and more traffic to bypass Buffalo by taking the St. Lawrence River route to Montreal, and the general decrease in grain production as demand fell off during the Depression.

But the period from 1890 to 1940 might well be considered the city's golden age of commercial supremacy in the grain transshipment industry.

At the same time, the upgrading of the Erie Canal into the New York State Barge Canal made canal transport once again a viable alternative to rail transport between Buffalo and New York City. During the 1930s, more grain actually moved on the canal than did on the rail lines. Railroads, however, continued to carry grain to places other than New York City over lines that extended fan-like from Buffalo to the East Coast.

Paralleling the robust trade in grain was a rise in the amount of flour milled at Buffalo. The upward trend began at the turn of the century and continued, with a brief setback during World War I, until it reached a peak in the 1930s. By this time, Buffalo surpassed Minneapolis as the nation's center of flour making.

The reasons for Buffalo's ascendancy were several. Among the leading ones were the slower rate of population increase in the Northwest, which reduced consumer demand, and the increase nationally of the number of large commercial bakeries, which caused a reduction in home baking. These mechanized bakeries required less and less of high quality Northwestern flour, which had been the staple of America's kitchen bakers.

But perhaps the most important factor working in Buffalo's favor was economic. "Flour milled in Buffalo," explains Sweeney, "from wheat received by lake from Duluth and shipped by rail to New York had a five-cent rate advantage per hundred pounds over flour milled at Minneapolis and shipped rail-lake-rail through Duluth and Buffalo to New York. This advantage had a markedly stimulating effect on Buffalo milling."

In other words, it was cheaper for shippers to send grain directly from Duluth to Buffalo for milling and then to New York for export than to send it first to Minneapolis for milling and then to Buffalo for transshipment to New York. Finally, under an agreement with the Canadian government, much Canadian wheat was milled "in bond" in Buffalo. This arrangement provided for the rebate of tariff duties on Canadian grain imported to the United States if, after milling here, it was exported directly to foreign markets.

All of this economic activity called for expanded grain storage facilities at Buffalo and the construction of large-scale flour milling facilities. Engineers met the challenge by literally reinventing the grain elevator.

Most of the older wooden elevators were now replaced by ones utilizing new designs and materials. The concrete bins of the new age of elevators greatly improved these structure's fireproof safety and expanded their storage capacity significantly. Just as the period 1890 to 1930 was a golden age of grain trade and flour milling in Buffalo, it was also a golden age of grain elevator construction.

In 1931, Buffalo possessed thirty-eight elevators with a total capacity of more than 47,000,000 bushels of grain. And the world took notice, especially the leading lights of the international architectural profession who were forging a new design esthetic for the modern era. Many marveled at Buffalo's extraordinary waterfront lined with mammoth concrete silos that foreshadowed an architecture of austere functionalism. Those like Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut, Le Corbusier, and Erich Mendelsohn drew lessons that helped change the course of modern architecture.


The Search for Fireproof Construction

Nearly all the elevators erected in Buffalo before the 1890s were made of wood. While this made for relatively inexpensive and quick construction, it also possessed many limitations as well. The biggest drawback to timber was its flammability. The early elevators often fell pray to destruction by fire. When the Eastern Elevator [Illus.] went up in Buffalo in 1895, it contained eight million board feet of timber. Four years later, all of it was destroyed in a grand conflagration.

Combustion might suddenly occur from overheated grain or from grain dust explosions that occurred especially when grain was being loaded into or unloaded from the elevator.

There were also threats from the exterior causes, chiefly sparks and hot cinders from locomotives, for elevators were located close to railroads. Cladding the exteriors of the elevators with corrugated metal sheets appears to have done little to prevent fires started by passing trains. Dunbar's Reed Elevator [Illus.] which was described as "the most complete elevator in all its appointments in Buffalo" when it went into operation in 1862, was probably the first to have employed corrugated iron to protect its marine tower; the rest of the exterior and the roof wore a shield of slate.

Boilers needed to generate steam for steam-powered machinery also posed a serious fire hazard. In addition to being easily ignited, timber elevators were prone to settle under the weight of a full load of grain, and rodents and other vermin had little trouble infiltrating their interiors.

For all of these reasons, insurance costs for such structures were quite high, a fact that was another incentive for entrepreneurs to search for new materials and construction techniques.

Writing in 1902 in the Northwestern Miller, a leading grain industry periodical, E. S. Rollins explained the relationship between insurance and grain elevator economy. Saving on insurance costs, he said, could represent the difference between profitability and loss to an elevator operator, especially in slow economic times. Rollins offered this example:

Now a fire-proof plant of 1,500,000 bushels capacity would cost $195,000, against $150,000 for the wooden, but would save $13,875 per year on insurance. This is a very good saving, and would pay the difference in the cost of construction in less than four years.

Moreover, this saving amounts to over seven per cent per year on the total cost of the fire-proof plant. This means that a company might build a fire-proof elevator, borrow the money with which to pay for it, and pay the interest on the bonds with what would be saved on insurance.

More than this could be done, in fact, for money can be borrowed at 5 per cent yearly, and as the fire-proof house would be a net savings of 7 per cent yearly on its cost, there would be a net saving of 2 per cent per year.


The Steel Bin Elevator

In the 1890s, engineers in Buffalo and elsewhere began to explore seriously the use of new, fireproof materials in the construction of grain elevators. Experiments with fireproof materials centered on steel, tile, and concrete. (By this time, most elevators, even timber ones, rested on concrete pier foundations.) The search eventually led to the revision of the elevator as it had been known up until that time.

The first experiments with fireproof construction were made using metal technology. Already in 1861, an elevator with cast iron bins twelve feet in diameter and fifty feet in depth was built on the Brooklyn, New York, waterfront. Later in the same decade, steel bins were used for the first time in an elevator that went up at Philadelphia.

It appears that the first attempt to construct a fully fireproof, non-timber elevator in Buffalo was the Plympton Elevator. Erected in 1868, it was built of iron and steel components, including cylindrical metal bins, rather than with the rectangular bins of timber framed elevators. It also had an attached workhouse made of brick and iron. The high cost of construction, however, seems to have discouraged imitators of the Plympton, which went down in the early 1890s. Ironically, this was just at the dawn of a new age of metal elevator construction.

During the last decade of the nineteenth century steel emerged as an important building material. Its most well known application was to the development of the metal-framed skyscraper, the building type that changed the look of America's cities. Designers also saw steel as a material that could be used in the construction of grain elevators to render them virtually fireproof.

With improved methods of industrial production, steel became an economical alternative to timber. This was especially true since timber prices begun to rise in the 1890s. And investors might recuperate the cost of a steel elevator compared to a timber one solely on the reduced premiums that insurance companies charged for metal construction. In this shift from wood to steel for elevator construction, Buffalo played a major role.

The pioneering examples of steel bin grain elevator construction in Buffalo were the Electric Elevator [Illus.] and the Great Northern Elevator. Both of these elevators, which went into operation in 1897, also marked the switch from steam to electrical powered machinery. (Electricity had become available from the Adams Power Plant in Niagara Falls in November 1896. These two giant elevators represented some of the earliest applications anywhere of electrical energy to industrial use.)

The Electric Elevator [Illus.] (demolished in 1984) stood adjacent to the Buffalo River and consisted of steel bins resting on concrete foundations with a tall, corrugated iron workhouse at the wharf end and a steel-frame horizontal transfer system for the distribution of grain above the bins. The bins, which had hemispherical bottoms to facilitate the flow of grain, rested above basement conveyor belts that carried grain to and fro below grade.

The most striking feature of the Electric Elevator's appearance to the eyes of people familiar with its wooden ancestors would have been its cylindrical bins standing completely exposed to view. For unlike earlier timber grain elevators, the Electric had no structure sheltering its bins from the elements. Exposed bins and machinery would become common practice for many later elevator builders. And the bin design itself departed from the rectangular shape of previous timber crib bins. Cylindrical bins, it was thought, were stronger than rectangular ones and were less likely to suffer damage when grain was emptied quickly from them.

Both of these aspects of the Electric's design–exposed bins and cylindrical silos - had their limitations in the minds of elevator engineers, but their use here definitely marked a new stage in elevator design and construction. "An experimental and transitional building of unusual form," Reyner Banham, the architectural historian who was the first to study Buffalo's grain elevators, declared of the bygone Electric.

The Great Northern Elevator would have looked less radical in its outward appearance to its contemporaries than did the Electric Elevator [Illus]. In its shed-like form, it resembles the shape of primitive wooden elevators. Its 99-foot-tall steel bins are sheltered inside a vast, 300'-long structure of brick curtain walls equivalent in height to a ten-story building.

Its designers, bridge architect Max Toltz and elevator engineer D. A. Robinson (both of whom were employees of the Great Northern Railroad that built the elevator ), thought that by enclosing the metal bins they were better protecting the grain being stored in them from the extremes of cold and heat. To shield the grain from summertime temperatures was especially important in order to prevent it from overheating and sprouting.

The horizontal conveyor system for distributing and weighing incoming and outgoing grain was housed in a four-story-high, corrugated iron headhouse atop the elevator.

When this elevator was still in operation, Banham, who I remember as a man who could see drama and poetry in all architecture, described the inside of the headhouse as "almost cathedral-like: long, lit by ranks of industrial windows in the corrugated roofing on either side, filled with a golden-gray atmosphere of flying grain dust sliced by low shafts of sunlight." His description continued:

The space is laced lengthwise by flat rubber belt conveyors loaded with grain and laced diagonally by more movable chutes for directing the flow of grain. Weigh bins over the heads of the main bins measure the flow, batch by batch, as it goes from bin to bin. The whole is monitored by men who watch steelyards connected to the weigh bins and mounted on desks whose legs are in the form of cast-iron Doric columns . . .

The internal arrangement of the Great Northern Elevator differs considerably from that of the Electric Elevator. The Great Northern's bins, which are formed of plates of steel riveted and welded together, stand on steel pillars several feet above the concrete floor of the elevator. (Another set of steel I-beams supports the headhouse and the upper level conveyor system.) Some of the bins could hold 70,000 bushels of wheat while others were subdivided horizontally to accommodate lesser amounts of grain from smaller shipments. (This is a feature of the Great Northern that looks forward to the design of later concrete elevator design.)

But the use of cylindrical bins resulted in about a twenty per cent loss of storage space over the old rectangular bin system. The engineers mitigated this problem by introducing eighteen narrower bins [interspace/interstitial bins] between the forty-eight main bins. (Later, additional bins of smaller diameter yet were added between the main bins and the outer walls.) Thus, the final storage capacity of the Great Northern reached ninety per cent of the available ground space.

After the Electric and the Great Northern, a number of steel elevators went up on the Buffalo waterfront. These included the Great Eastern Elevator [Illus.] (1901), the Iron Elevator (1902), the Monarch Elevator (1905), and the Dakota [Illus.] (1901). (Other than the Great Northern, none of these steel elevators survives.)

The most spectacular of the group was the Dakota [Illus.] , which replaced an earlier timber elevator destroyed by fire and lasted until the 1960s. Its tall, exposed steel bins and very large headhouse attracted attention of the early modern German architect Walter Gropius, who published a photograph of it in his essay, "The Development of Modern Industrial Architecture."

Steel, however, proved to be less satisfactory than originally envisioned as a fireproof material. Fire, of course, would not burn the metal, but heat generated by a grain fire could cause severe structural damage to the bins and the steel support structure.

A fire in a steel elevator in Fort William, Ontario, in the early twentieth century demonstrated how vulnerable to heat steel could be. The Fort William fire became so intense that the steel bins and other components actually melted.

"Steel is an ideal material for constructive purposes," observed engineering writer E. P. Overmire at the time, "but it requires expensive fireproofing to render it safe from internal, as well as external, attacks from fire." Demonstrating an industry-wide change of heart, the owners of the destroyed Fort William rebuilt their elevator in wood, convinced, said Overmire, "that wood will not be more easily destroyed than was the steelwork."

The last steel elevator to go up in Buffalo during the period of significance was an addition made in 1922 to the Kellogg Elevator [Illus.]. By then, reinforced concrete had become universally recognized as the superior material for elevator construction in Buffalo and elsewhere.

Ceramic tile elevators
During the first decade of the twentieth century, industrial engineers also experimented with ceramic tile in an effort to make their elevators fireproof. As early as the middle of the 1890s, Ernest V. Johnson (who was the son of the designer of the earlier iron Plympton Elevator) patented a practical system of tile bin construction that was used by the Barnett-Record Company of Minneapolis, a builder of many tile elevators.

Some bins were constructed on a rectangular plan, but most ceramic bins were cylindrical with internal steel bands for reinforcement. Those built by the Barnett-Record Company also captured the space between the bins for storage by constructing linking walls of arched tiles reinforced by metal tie rods. This innovation would be important for the later design of concrete elevators, which would usually adopt this practice of reducing wasted space by linking cylindrical bins with intermediate walls.

There were several advantages to ceramic tile bins. Not only were they completely fireproof and heat resistant, but their hollow walls were better than steel at insulating grain from the extremes of heat and cold. For this reason, tile silos did not need to be protected from the weather by an enclosing structure; the cylinders could be left exposed to the elements. And the lighter weight of ceramic bins reduced the load that foundations were required to bear.

Although many tile elevators were built in the Midwest, Canada, and at East Coast ports, they made little impact on Buffalo's grain storage industry. Only two were constructed in Buffalo: the 150,000 bushel Washburn Crosby "A" Elevator [Illus.], which consists of tile tanks eighty feet tall and twenty feet in diameter erected in 1903 according to the Barnett-Record Company patented system (these bins are now part of the General Mills complex) and the 100,000 bushel Maritime Milling Elevator (now demolished).

Despite tile elevators' many advantages, when compared to concrete elevators, which were becoming practicable at about the same time, tile structures were expensive to build and maintain. The large number of mortar joints needing to be dressed slowed the process of construction and afterward required constant vigilance to prevent leaks. And because tiles were normally produced in pre-fabricated sizes geared for large bins, it was often difficult to obtain materials with which to build smaller elevators.

"Tile bins introduced at the turn of the century," states the Historic American Engineering Record, "were already considered obsolescent by 1913."

Nonetheless, architectural historian Reyner Banham regarded their exposed, unadorned silos as an important step toward the great concrete elevators of the early twentieth century. In his eyes, the tile-bin system represented "an intermediary between the primitive phase of cylindrical bin construction and the classic concrete phase that was to ensue so soon after." Reflecting upon the German art historian Wilhelm Worringer's theory of an American "ultimate Metaphysic of Form," Banham declared that he found evidence of it "in the sight of these grudging, lowering shapes crouched under a leaden winter sky, unlovable but compelling respect." They were "the Protestant work ethic monumentalized," he asserted.

The age of the steel and tile elevators marked an important chapter in the history grain elevator construction. Developments during this period passed on an important legacy to the age of reinforced concrete elevators that was to follow.


Experiments in the early twentieth century by various engineers revealed that static grain in storage bins acted like a semi-liquid, exerting less lateral pressure on the bin walls than vertical pressure on the bottom. These pressures were related to the ratio of the diameter of the bin to its height, but after three times the diameter had been reached, vertical pressure increased very little. Thus, it seemed safe to build taller bins than ever before.

Physicists also came to understand that vertical pressure was influenced by the angle of friction of the grain and that no excess pressures were created when the grain was moving during draw off, if the outlet were in the center of the bin bottom.

All of this newly discovered arcane knowledge would be essential to engineers designing the grand concrete elevators that were soon to go up along the Buffalo waterfront.


The Concrete Grain Elevators of the Early Twentieth Century

The search for a durable and economical method of constructing grain elevators culminated in the early twentieth century when reinforced concrete became the standard material with which these huge structures were built. (Steel bins, however, proved highly practical and remained in common use throughout the twentieth century.)

The development represented the climax of an evolutionary process that had gone through wood, steel, and tile elevator design. During the nineteenth century, engineers had selectively applied concrete to foundations and floors of wood, steel, and tile elevators.

"The era of the true concrete elevator," states the Historic American Engineering Record, "is defined by the application of reinforced concrete to the construction of storage bins."

And the Buffalo waterfront came to possess the world's most impressive array of these monuments of early modern engineering.

Concrete had been used to construct grain silos in Europe as early as the 1890s. The Belgian elevator engineer Francois Hennebique enjoyed a wide reputation for his work with concrete. The Waever's Mill Granery at Swansea in Wales was also well-known internationally. Built on a rectangular plan, it contained one hundred, seven-foot-square bins, sixty-six feet deep.

In the middle of the 1890s, Minneapolis grain dealer F. H. Peavey sent his engineer, C. F. Haglin, to Europe to study Belgian, Welch, and other developments there in concrete grain elevator construction. Haglin learned a lot about reinforced concrete from his trip and in 1899 erected at Minneapolis the first reinforced concrete bin elevator in the United States. Known as "Peavey's Folly," it consisted of a single cylindrical concrete bin.

While it shared material with its European counterparts, Peavey's Folly cylindrical design (the legacy of American experiments with steel and tile elevator design) made a radical departure from the rectangular "warehouse" system of Trans-Atlantic grain storage facilities. (The silo system was better-suited to the American method of moving grain in bulk rather than in sacks, which was common practice in Europe.)

It was the unassuming prototype of the characteristic American concrete grain silos that avant-garde European architects would come to admire at Buffalo and at other grain centers in the United States. Indeed, one can say that Haglin's Peavey's Folly not only revolutionized the construction of grain elevators, but even influenced the course of modern architecture.

Haglin also introduced an innovative system of concrete construction that would be widely imitated. Dispensing with full scaffolding, he substituted a type of formwork called "slip form" that consisted of two rings held apart by sturdy yokes. Once the concrete that had been poured into the formwork had set, the two rings were raised to the next level by means of jacks. Vertical "jacking rods" built into the system of steel reinforcements in the concrete allowed for the steady rise of the slip form until the full height of the silo was reached. Thus the entire silo would "grow" as the concrete set and the formwork moved upward.

Peavey's Folly, which had a diameter of twenty feet, rose in this manner to a height of 124' with walls twelve inches thick at the base and only five inches thick at the top. This clever method of construction, which would be used extensively in Buffalo, was first employed to erect an actual commercial elevator in 1900. In that year, Haglin built the Peavey Elevator at Duluth. And like later concrete elevators at Buffalo, connecting walls linked the tangential cylindrical bins to create interspace storage bins.

The many advantages of concrete for grain elevator construction accounted for the near universal adoption of this method of construction for large elevators by the second decade of the twentieth century.

As the Portland Cement Association pointed out in 1917, concrete furnished the surest form of fireproofing for elevators and mill buildings. Perhaps the best proof of that fact, stated the Association, was that "no insurance need be carried on the structure, as it cannot burn." Concrete silos also could be counted on to preserve the grain from damp. In fact, they were so reliably waterproof that manufacturers of Portland cement, a material far more easily ruined by wetness than grain (which could be dried), had adopted the cylindrical concrete grain bin to store this important building material.

Concrete also provided unexcelled protection against rodents. And because it would not rot, it also insured stored grain against the ravishes of insects, which, if they did happen to infest a bin could be easily destroyed by fumigation in the airtight atmosphere.

Furthermore, concrete basement tunnels for moving grain were watertight and permanent.

"The concrete cylinder elevator," stated Reyner Banham, is still so omnipresent because it represented an almost excessively good investment when first built. If it was solidly enough made to carry its load, maintain an equable thermal environment, and resist fire for long enough to amortize the original investment, then it had to be well enough made to last more or less forever -- and be well enough made to be extremely costly to demolish."

With improved mixtures of concrete and the adoption of the practice of slip forming, concrete also came to be used to construct the headhouses, workhouses and overhead galleries as well as the grain bins themselves.

In earlier days, these elements were built with structural steel and clad with corrugated iron. The Washburn Crosby C2 Elevator of 1913 was the first in Buffalo to employ a concrete gallery; A. E. Baxter's Ralston Purina workhouse of 1917 had the first workhouse and headhouse constructed of concrete in Buffalo. These were built quickly by the slip forming method that engineers employed to raise the cylindrical bins.

Indeed, speed of construction was another important positive aspect of concrete grain elevator construction. "The timetable for the construction of an elevator," states the Historic American Engineering Record, "was usually extremely tight. Slip forming began only when spring was far enough advance, yet the promoters expected the building to be operational by autumn to received the first of that year's crop and ensure that storage was full at the close of the navigation season in mid-December."

By the 1920s, it was common for engineers to erect elevators, headhouses, and workhouses of concrete. (Marine legs, which were mobile, were erected on steel frames and covered with corrugated iron plates.) It is from this period that Buffalo's classic, concrete elevators date.

Harry R. Wait designed many of Buffalo's concrete grain elevators. Following the lead of Haglin's work in Minnesota, Wait refined and improved the type, grouping many tall silos together to form the characteristic unadorned corrugated exterior that distinguished the modern elevator from its shed-like predecessors.

The largest and finest example of his work is the abandoned Concrete Central Elevator [HABS] of 1915-1917. It shares one of the innovations for which he was known, the raised basement. Grain stored in the great concrete bins fell through funnel-like steel bottoms into a system of conveyor belts. The ground floors of Wait's elevators were impressive open spaces overshadowed by the immense steel bottoms of the numerous bins.

Of the twelve-foot-high, window-lit basement of the Concrete Central Elevator, Reyner Banham (who wrongly attributed Concrete Central to A. E. Baxter) remarked that it "was palatial in size compared with what was customary in the trade."

Other designers, however, rarely imitated Wait's generous basement workspaces. The now-abandoned Marine A of 1925, notes Banham, "put the bins on foundations some six feet below grade level and pierce[d] their walls at the bottom to allow the conveyors to pass through."

As the twentieth century progressed, industrial engineers like A. E. Baxter transformed the meandering Buffalo River into a striking corridor of monumental concrete elevators.

The story begins in 1906, when the American Elevator (present Peavey Elevator), the first concrete elevator erected on the Buffalo waterfront and the first anywhere to be constructed by continuously pouring concrete into slip forms, went up. It effectively ends in 1954, when the Connecting Terminal Annex was constructed.

Between these years, some forty-two concrete elevator projects (some of these were additions to existing elevators) were undertaken along banks of the Buffalo River and on the shores of the outer harbor.

Various improvements to the harbor district's infrastructure also followed to accommodate rail, lake vessel, and truck access to the area. (The present tower driven lift bridge at Ohio Street was built in 1962. A bridge first spanned the Buffalo River at Michigan Avenue in 1873; the current vertical lift bridge there dates from 1960 but replicates an earlier bridge put up in 1933.)

Today (2002), some seventeen elevators remain, including Baxter's handsome Standard and Concrete Central [HABS].  Of this number, several are still in use for storing grain or other materials.


The Influence on Modern Architecture

Together with their significance as monuments of early industrial engineering, Buffalo's grain elevators came to play an indirect role in the evolution of modern architecture.

Beginning with the German architect Walter Gropius's essay on modern architecture in the Jahrbuch des Deutschen Werkbundes of 1913, Buffalo's grain elevators appeared in publications by advanced European architects. They praised them as examples of modern functional design uncluttered by ornament, picturesque composition, or historical references. Gropius illustrated his remarks with photographs of the Washburn-Crosby complex and the Dakota Elevator [Illus.].

A few years later, Erich Mendelsohn, another influential German architect, published his photographic essay Amerika: Bilderbuch eines Architeckten. Among other powerful images of new industrial architecture, it featured views of several elevators Mendelsohn had seen on a recent trip to Buffalo.

And in 1927, the great French modernist, Le Corbusier, declared in Towards a New Architecture: "Thus we have the American grain elevator and factories, the magnificent FIRST FRUITS of the new age. THE AMERICAN ENGINEERS OVERWHELM WITH THEIR CALCULATIONS OUR EXPIRING ARCHITECTURE." To back up his claim he featured a photograph of Buffalo's exposed-steel-bin Dakota Elevator.

Writing for an English-speaking audience, Bruno Taut called attention to the Wait's great Concrete Central Elevator [HABS] in his widely circulated Modern Architecture. Perhaps Walter Curt Behrendt spoke for all of these men, when, in 1927 he wrote in his Der Sieg des Neuen Baustils:

To do justice, it is necessary to say, and this will probably surprise the reader, that it was the example of America that gave the impulse to the German architects when they first tried to clarify the problem of structure. To be sure, this impulse did not originate in the skyscraper . . . but the simple structures of industrial building such as grain elevators and big silos . . . These examples of modern engineering, designed for practical use only, and obviously without any decorative assistance from an architect, made a deep impression by their simple structure reduced to basic forms of geometry such as cubes and cylinders. They were conceived as patterns exemplifying once more the essence of the pure form of use, gaining its impressive effect from its bare structure.


Monuments of a Vanished Prosperity - Table of Contents
Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2013
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