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Daniel Hudson Burnham
Daniel Burnham.jpg
Portrait of Daniel Burnham
Personal information
Name Daniel Hudson Burnham
Nationality American
Birth date September 4, 1846(1846-09-04)
Birth place Henderson, New York
Date of death June 1, 1912 (aged 65)
Place of death Heidelberg, Germany
Practice Burnham and Root
Buildings Flatiron Building, Union Station (Washington, D.C.), Postal Square Building
Projects World's Columbian Exposition

Daniel Hudson Burnham, FAIA (September 4, 1846 – June 1, 1912) was an American architect and urban planner. He was the Director of Works for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and designed several famous buildings, including the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington D.C.



Burnham was born in Henderson, New York and raised in Chicago, Illinois. His parents brought him up under the teachings of the Swedenborgian Church of New Jerusalem,[1] which ingrained in him the strong belief that man should strive to be of service to others.[2] After failing admissions tests for both Harvard and Yale, and an unsuccessful stint at politics, Burnham apprenticed as a draftsman under William LeBaron Jenney. At age 26, Burnham moved on to the Chicago offices of Carter, Drake, and Wight, where he met future business partner John Wellborn Root (1850–1891).

Burnham and Root were the architects of one of the first American skyscrapers: the Masonic Temple Building[3] in Chicago. Measuring 21 stories and 302 feet, the Temple held claims as the tallest building of its time, but was torn down in 1939. Under the design influence of Root, the firm had produced modern buildings as part of the Chicago School. Following Root’s premature death from pneumonia in 1891, the firm became known as D.H. Burnham & Company.

World's Columbian Exposition

Court of Honor and Grand Basin — World's Columbian Exposition

Burnham and Root had accepted responsibility to oversee construction of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago’s then-desolate Jackson Park on the south lakefront. The largest world's fair to that date (1892), it celebrated the 400-year anniversary of Christopher Columbus' famous voyage. After Root's death, a team of distinguished American architects and landscape architects, including Burnham, Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles McKim and Louis Sullivan, radically changed Root's modern and colorful style to a Classical Revival style. Under Burnham's direction, the construction of the Fair overcame huge financial and logistical hurdles, including a worldwide financial panic and an extremely tight timeframe, to open on time.

Considered the first example of a comprehensive planning document in the nation, the fairground was complete with grand boulevards, classical building facades, and lush gardens. Often called the "White City", it popularized neoclassical architecture in a monumental and rational Beaux-Arts plan. The remaining population of architects in the U.S. were soon asked by clients to incorporate similar elements into their designs.

City planning and "The Plan of Chicago"

Burnham's plan for central Chicago

Initiated in 1906 and published in 1909, Burnham and his co-author Edward H. Bennett prepared "The Plan of Chicago", which laid out plans for the future of the city. It was the first comprehensive plan for the controlled growth of an American city, and an outgrowth of the City Beautiful movement. The plan included ambitious proposals for the lakefront and river and declared that every citizen should be within walking distance of a park. Sponsored by the Commercial Club of Chicago,[4] Burnham donated his services in hopes of furthering his own cause.

Plans and conceptual designs of the south lakefront[5] from the Exposition came in handy, as he envisioned Chicago being a "Paris on the Prairie". French-inspired public works constructions, fountains, and boulevards radiating from a central, domed municipal palace became Chicago's new backdrop. The plan set the standard for urban design, anticipating future need to control unexpected urban growth.

City planning projects did not stop at Chicago though; Burnham helped shape cities such as Cleveland (the Group Plan), San Francisco, Washington, DC (the McMillan Plan), and Manila and Baguio in the Philippines, details of which appear in "The Chicago Plan" publication of 1909. The Plan for Manila was not fulfilled, except for a shore road, which became Dewey boulevard, now known as Roxas boulevard.

Much of his career work modeled the classical style of Greece and Rome. In his 1924 autobiography, Louis Sullivan, considered by many to be the greatest architect from the Chicago School, chastised the late Burnham for his lack of original expression and dependence on Classicism. Sullivan claimed the neoclassical example of the World's Fair had "set back architecture fifty years"—a sentiment edged with bitterness, as corporate America of the early twentieth century had demonstrated a strong preference for Burnham's architectural style over Sullivan's.

Burnham was quoted after his death as saying, "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will not themselves be realized." (Moore 1921) This slogan has been taken to capture the essence of Burnham's spirit, although there is no documented evidence that he actually used those words.

Burnham and Bennett's plan for San Francisco

A man of influence, Burnham was considered the preeminent architect in America at the turn of the twentieth century. He held many positions during his lifetime, including the presidency of the American Institute of Architects.[6] Other notable architects began their careers under his aegis, such as Joseph W. McCarthy. In 1912, when he died in Heidelberg, Germany, D.H. Burnham and Co. was the world's largest architectural firm. Legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright eulogized, "(Burnham) made masterful use of the methods and men of his time... (as) an enthusiastic promoter of great construction enterprises... his powerful personality was supreme." His firm continues its work today under the name Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, which it adopted in 1917.

Almost as a tribute to his urban planning ethos, Burnham's final resting spot is given special attention, being located on the only island in the park-like Graceland Cemetery, situated in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood.

Because he was the planner and architect of Baguio City in the Philippines, the city's Burnham Park was named after him. In his honor, the American Planning Association named a major annual prize the Daniel Burnham Award for a Comprehensive Plan.[7] An alley in San Francisco, formerly Hemlock Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street, was renamed in Burnham's honor.

Collections of Burnham's personal and professional papers, photographs, and other archival materials are held by the Ryerson and Burnham Archives at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Daniel Burnham Memorial Competition (Chicago) was held in 2009 to create a memorial to Daniel Burnham and his Plan of Chicago.

Notable commissions


Burnham's Plan for Manila




Washington, D.C.

Fayette Building
Uniontown, Pennsylvania


Appearances In Popular Culture

  • Make No Little Plans - Daniel Burnham and the American City,[10] is the first feature length documentary film about noted architect and urban planner Daniel Hudson Burnham, produced by the Archimedia Workshop. National distribution in 2009 will coincide with the centennial celebration of Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett’s 1909 Plan of Chicago.
  • The Devil in the White City, a non-fiction book by Erik Larson, intertwines the true tale of two men: H.H. Holmes, a serial killer famed for his 'murderous hotel' in Chicago, and Daniel Burnham.
  • In the role-playing game Unknown Armies, James K. McGowan, the True King of Chicago, quotes Daniel Burnham and regards him as a paragon of the Windy City's mysterious and magical past.


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood...

Daniel Hudson Burnham (4 September 18461 June 1912) was an American architect and urban planner.


  • 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, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistence. Remember that our sons and our grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.
    • Moore, Charles. Daniel H. Burnham, Architect, Planner of Cities (1921) Boston, Houghton Mifflin; Volume 2; Chapter XXV "Closing in 1911-1912;" Page 1921.

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