Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame


LeRoy Buffington - 1996 Inductee

(1847 - 1931) Buffington was a Minneapolis architect and engineer known as the "Father of the Skyscraper." His idea was to erect a steel frame to which thin veneers of brick or other material of relatively light weight could be attached, with the frame to carry the weight of the exterior materials. Prior to development of the concept of the skyscraper, for every floor of increased height above three or four stories, the stone, brick or masonry foundations and walls of the lower floors had to be made thicker, increasingly sacrificing the available space in the lower floors. Also, stone or brick subjected to the weight of many stories restricted on the height of buildings owing to limitations in compressive strength. In 1888, a patent was issued to Buffington for what he then referred to as a "Cloud-Scraper." The 28 story building illustrated in the patent was more than twice taller than the tallest building of that era. This skeletal-frame, curtain-wall method of construction is the basis upon which modern skyscrapers are still built, and has transformed the skylines of cities of the world. The patent, and the publicity surrounding it, earned Buffington international acclaim, and some ridicule, for the revolutionary concept which it discloses. An architectural journal asserted that "he does not know that the expansion and contraction of iron would crack all the plaster; that, in a few years, there would only be the shell left."

Buffington brought the potential of the iron skeletal frame to the attention of the national architectural and building communities. Architects and engineers began using the idea, which in primitive form had been around for decades. His claim to priority has caused widespread discussion and heated controversy. He fought against what he considered patent infringements, but without success. Although his entitlement to the patent has been the subject of considerable study and controversy, in its issue of June 1929, the American Architect concluded that he must be given credit for the method of constructing skyscrapers now commonly in use. Apart from his contribution as an inventor, Buffington’s legacy to Minnesota lies in the numerous significant buildings he designed throughout this long and distinguished career.

NOTE: These biographies have been compiled from information accompanying the nomination form submitted to the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame, information available on the Internet and from a variety of other sources.