Shipping American Skyscrapers Abroad Milliken Brothers

At the turn of the century, if there was an American skyscraper 'invasion', it was not restricted to Europe. By 1910 high-rises erected with American components were soaring from East Asia to South Africa to Central America.

There is a steady development of demand for steel buildings of American design throughout the world . . . In the early stages of the development of the American skyscraper, American methods of steel building construction were not regarded with favor by foreigners. Many of the most notable examples of the new style of construction . . . were a type of architecture so unsightly that it would not have been tolerated in the old cities of the world. Foreign architects . . . viewed with distrust the comparatively light skeleton designs of American steel work. Time has, however, demonstrated the strength and safety of this form of construction, and the constant increase in the value of land in the large cities of the world has compelled an increase in the height of buildings, thus removing one of the principal obstacles to the development of American steel construction, and the pioneer work of American architects and engineers in foreign countries is beginning to yield substantial returns. (Far Eastern Review, 1911, 9(2), p. 49)

One of the first American companies that understood how profitable it might be to capitalize overseas upon the three innovations associated with the steel frame (i.e., its links to efficiency, the high-rise building and concrete) was the Milliken Brothers Company, established in New York City in 1887.4 In the early 1890s Milliken secured contracts for both bridges and high-rises in several U.S. cities. In 1890-1891, for example, Milliken was the contractor for Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building in St. Louis, and in 1907-1908 Milliken erected Ernest Flagg's Singer Building in New York as well as several other high-rise buildings, especially in New York.5 What distinguished the company was its foresight in disseminating the American steel-frame building as a viable building technology overseas by the turn of the century. At the turn of the century the Milliken Brothers Company was one of the earliest multi-national American construction firms. The company thought it was desirable 'to find an outlet in foreign countries for [American] iron and steel' (Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1899, p. 7) and it outlined three reasons why foreign clients sought American producers over English, German or French competitors: first, because of speed (five to six weeks for finished buildings from the date of the order); second, because the finished products were precision-manufactured by first creating wooden templates to avoid costly errors in later stages of production; and third, because of the efficiency in marking and shipping the goods, which made it easier to 'pick out the pieces and properly assemble the structure after it [was] received' (Ibid., p. 8).6

At Milliken's main office, over 150 engineers and draftsmen were employed to fill foreign and domestic orders. The company established branch offices in London, to serve European markets; in Mexico City and Havana, to gain access more easily to Central and South American locations; in Capetown and Johannesburg, South Africa,7 to market themselves on that continent (Picton-Seymour, 1989; Greig, 1971); and in Honolulu, Hawaii and Sydney, Australia, to handle Asian clients. By 1907 Milliken had erected eight mills in Hawaii for the Oahu Sugar Company, a cable station on Midway Island and several prefabricated steel buildings on Guam, Taiwan and in northern China.

If a client desired, Milliken was pleased not only to provide a design but also erect from scratch 'distinctively American, fire-proof buildings using

Figure 1.13. Roberto Boker Building (also known as 'Casa Boker '), Mexico City, the first American steel frame building in Mexico, 1899-1900. The three-storey department store was erected in less than a year using materials and instructions from the Milliken Brothers Company in Brooklyn, New York. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1899, p. 117)

Figure 1.13. Roberto Boker Building (also known as 'Casa Boker '), Mexico City, the first American steel frame building in Mexico, 1899-1900. The three-storey department store was erected in less than a year using materials and instructions from the Milliken Brothers Company in Brooklyn, New York. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1899, p. 117)

Figure 1.14. Warehouse of the Roberto Boker Department Store, built using similar technologies as the main store it serviced. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1899, p. 121)

Figure 1.15. Interior of the Roberto Boker Department Store. U.S. technologies tied to the building's form were complemented by U.S.-derived models for displaying consumer goods, thus creating spaces of consumption geared towards Mexican middle and upper class clients. (Source: American Exporter, 1901, 47(5))

Figure 1.15. Interior of the Roberto Boker Department Store. U.S. technologies tied to the building's form were complemented by U.S.-derived models for displaying consumer goods, thus creating spaces of consumption geared towards Mexican middle and upper class clients. (Source: American Exporter, 1901, 47(5))

Figures 1.16, 1.17 and 1.18. Havana Cigar Factory, Cuba, built c. 1904-05 using American steel framing techniques of the Milliken Brothers Company. Once the structural frame was erected, the building was clad in stone, masking its steel skeleton. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1905, pp. 120-127)

Figure 1.19. Section of a typical Milliken Brothers building, which shows how its steel frame was complemented by other building materials such as hollow tile, concrete, wood and plasterboard. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1905, plate 44)

Figure 1.20. Sugar mill building, Elizalda, Cuba. Milliken buildings were not just shipped to urban contexts; they also were purchased by rural industrialists who liked their flexible layouts as well as the speed and efficiency with which they could be constructed. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1899, p. 141)

Figure 1.20. Sugar mill building, Elizalda, Cuba. Milliken buildings were not just shipped to urban contexts; they also were purchased by rural industrialists who liked their flexible layouts as well as the speed and efficiency with which they could be constructed. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1899, p. 141)

Figure 1.21. Bridge in Costa Rica, built with Milliken parts. Bridges were among the earliest kinds of structures exemplifying the exporting of American architecture. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1905, p. 343)

Figure 1.22. Machine shops constructed by the Russian Government in Port Arthur (near present-day Dalian), China, c. 1905. Large-span structures with prefabricated trusses and fulfilling a multitude of functions were well-suited to the kinds of architectural exporting that American companies such as the Milliken Brothers engaged in during the late-nineteenth century. Here they were put to use by Russia, when that country was establishing rail and shipping links, through a weakened China, to the Pacific Ocean. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1905, p. 178)

Figure 1.22. Machine shops constructed by the Russian Government in Port Arthur (near present-day Dalian), China, c. 1905. Large-span structures with prefabricated trusses and fulfilling a multitude of functions were well-suited to the kinds of architectural exporting that American companies such as the Milliken Brothers engaged in during the late-nineteenth century. Here they were put to use by Russia, when that country was establishing rail and shipping links, through a weakened China, to the Pacific Ocean. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1905, p. 178)

Figure 1.23. Workers erecting the Cape Times Building in Capetown, South Africa. Foremen and labourers could follow with relative ease the instructions supplied to them, along with the materials, for building high-rise structures of American manufacture. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1905, p. 145)

Figure 1.23. Workers erecting the Cape Times Building in Capetown, South Africa. Foremen and labourers could follow with relative ease the instructions supplied to them, along with the materials, for building high-rise structures of American manufacture. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1905, p. 145)

Figures 1.24 and 1.25.

Garlick Building, Capetown and Eckstein Building, Johannesburg, South Africa. These steel frames rising high above these two South African cities exemplified how successful the Milliken Brothers Company was in marketing its products to clients reached by seaports. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1905, pp. 151 and 144, respectively)

Figure 1.26. Concert Hall, South Africa. The adaptability of the steel frame to myriad uses and contexts was one of its chief selling points. (Source: Milliken Brothers Catalogue, 1905, p. 175)

the skeleton construction plan' (Milliken Catalogue, 1905, pp. 105, 114).

We are enabled to give our foreign customers not only a completed building, but to give them all of the 1001 ingenious American devices that are used in the construction of office buildings, stores, warehouses, etc. for which the American people are so celebrated . . . We are prepared, where customers desire, to take the land just as we find it and erect on the same a completed building . . . We are also prepared to submit drawings and specifications covering all of these different classes of work . . . making suggestions as we think desirable to meet the best American practice. A large part of our foreign business extends to tropical countries where the climatic conditions are peculiar. We have had a very large experience in constructing buildings in the tropics, and have introduced a number of novel features in some of these buildings. (Ibid.)

Also, as they had done in the United States, Milliken sometimes provided the tectonic means for realizing the designs of architects not employed by them. Louis Sullivan's Wainwright Building was one such example. In South Africa, it was local

architects William Leck & Fred Emley who designed Johannesburg's 'first skyscraper', the ten-storey high Corner House (also known as the Rand Mines Building). Milliken thus provided the steel-framing technology to bring local architects' high-rise dreams into reality (Picton-Seymour, 1989, pp. 153-154; Greig, 1971, p. 133).

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