From the world's tallest buildings to gasoline-powered automobiles, great innovation hails from the Midwest. Take some time this month to discover some of the firsts that debuted in your area.
Chicago has been home to many novel ideas: The Ferris wheel, zippers, deep-dish pizza. One Windy City invention, though, has changed the face of cities worldwide -- the skyscraper, introduced here in 1885 with the construction of the Home Insurance building at Adams and LaSalle. At 10 stories and 138 feet, it was the first building to employ a structural steel frame, a design technique developed by engineer William Jenney, which allowed buildings to reach higher than ever thought possible. The unique Chicago landmark was demolished in 1931, but only after paving the way for skyscrapers everywhere including buildings such as the iconic Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) which, at 1,450 feet and 110 floors, is 10 times taller than the Home Insurance building was in its day. Learn all about Chicago's unique architectural heritage with a tour offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. From "Historic Downtown(south): Rise of the Skyscraper" and "Skyscraper Walk Through Time" to "Modern Skyscrapers," the Foundation's programs provide firsthand views of the architectural treasures that have distinguished Chicago throughout time. For details on programs and tours or to purchase tickets in advance, visit the Foundation website at www.architecture.org.
In Indiana, Kokomo is known as "the city of firsts," birthplace to stainless flatware, canned tomato juice and, most notable, the gasoline-powered automobile otherwise known as the horseless carriage. This is where the automobile industry got its start when Elwood Haynes developed a combustion-engine-powered vehicle in 1891. Within four years, he co-founded the Haynes-Apperson Company, one of the first manufacturers in the United States to mass-produce cars. Two area attractions pay tribute to Kokomo's automotive heritage: The Elwood Haynes Museum and the Kokomo Automotive Museum. The Haynes Museum is housed in the inventor's home, a mansion he purchased in 1916. Here, you can see many of Haynes' personal possessions and inventions. Download a brochure about the museum at www.cityofkokomo.org.
On the campus of Ivy Technical Community College, the Kokomo Auto Museum honors the city's distinctive history with displays of more than 100 antique cars, automotive memorabilia, vintage advertising and clothing. Check out www.kokomoautomotivemuseum.org for upcoming events and other information.
While you're in the area, check out the country's oldest art glass manufacturer, Kokomo Opalescent Glass, in operation since 1888. Kokomo Opalescent Glass was used by Louis Tiffany in the colorful windows and lamps he created around the turn of the century, and even today is used in restoring much of his original work. Find out more about these dazzling creations with a factory tour, named the “Best Factory Tour in Indiana” in 2011; go to www.kog.com/location-and-tour-info.html for details. For information on area museums and other historic sites and attractions in the "city of firsts," visit the Kokomo Visitors Bureau website at www.kokomo-in.org.
Make your next winter getaway a first, too - a chance to learn about the innovative spirit that has long been cultivated in Illinois and Indiana.