Illustration by Art Seiden

Jewish Heroes and Heroines in America

1900 to World War II:


Dankmar Adler: An Architectural Pioneer

by Seymour "Sy" Brody

Dankmar Adler was a pioneer and a leader in developing and building steel-framed skyscrapers in the 1880s. Adler was also an expert in acoustics for building auditoriums and theaters. Adler was born in Eisenach, Germany, on July 3, 1844. His mother died when delivering him. For this reason, his father, Liebman Adler, named him Dankmar. The name is a compound of the German words dank (thanks) and mar (bitter). Adler was a public school teacher and a cantor in the local synagogue.

In 1854, Liebman Adler decided that he and his son would immigrate to Detroit. There, he became the rabbi and cantor of Congregation Beth El. Dankmar received his education in the public schools. He failed to get into college and received private instruction in drawing. After he expressed an interest in architecture, his father placed him as an apprentice with Mr. Shaeffer, a well known architect.

He was taught the conventional five orders and drew many sketches of the Byzantine and Romanesque omaments that were so popular in that period. Mr. Shaeffer taught him to erect houses of worship.

After Liebman Adler was named rabbi of Kehilath Anshe Ma'ariv Synagogue in Chicago in May 1861, the Adlers moved there. Dankmar Adler started to look for an architect's job but this was cut short in July 1862, when he enlisted in Company M, First Regiment, of the Illinois Light Artillery to fight in the Civil War. He was involved in many battles from 1862 through 1864 and was also wounded.

In between the battles, he was constantly reading scientific publications. In the last nine months of service, he was assigned to be a draftsman in the Typographical Engineer's office of the Military Division of Tennessee. When he was discharged, he returned to Chicago.

He had many jobs as an architect from 1865 to 1871, when he formed a partnership with Edward Burling. Eight months after the partnership began, they were inundated with work as a result of the great Chicago fire in October of 1871. Adler married Dila Kohn in 1872. Kohn was the daughter of Abraham Kohn, who was a pioneer settler in Chicago and a founder of the Kehilath Anshe Ma'ariv Synagogue.

Adler decided to be independent and opened his own firm in 1879. Soon after he went into business, he hired Louis Sullivan, who was later to become his partner. (The two of them would later build more than 100 buildings, including steel-framed skyscrapers.) Adler's father had the satisfaction of having his son build a new synagogue for his congregation before he died in 1891.

American architect Frank Lloyd Wright went to work for Adler and Sullivan and received his training from them. In 1895, Adler and Sullivan dissolved their partnership. Adler was involved in all of the architects' organizations and wrote articles on architecture.

Adler was a hero in the Civil War, an expert in acoustics and a pioneer in the development of steel-framed buildings and skyscrapers. His work and legacy is a valuable contribution to the development of America. He died at the age of 56, on April 16, 1900.

This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes and Heroines of America, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.

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