In 1926, a westward extension of double-deck Wacker Drive increased development on the south riverbank. In 1927, Marshall Field & Co. announced its plans to build on the north bank opposite Wacker Drive. The site, bordered by Orleans Street, Wells Street, Kinzie Street and the Chicago River, was formerly a Native American trading post and the site of Chicago and North Western Railway’s former Wells Street Station, abandoned in 1911 in favor of the Chicago and North Western Passenger Terminal. With the railroad’s air rights, the site was large enough to accommodate “the largest building in the world”. Removing the train yard supported the Chicago Plan Commission’s desire to develop and beautify the riverfront. James Simpson, president of Marshall Field & Co. from 1923 to 1930 and chairman of the Chicago Plan Commission from 1926 to 1935, turned the first shovels of dirt at groundbreaking on August 16, 1928, along with architect Ernest Graham. General contractor John W. Griffiths & Sons brought building construction into the machine age through the use of techniques “ordinarily used in the construction of big dams.” Cement arriving by boat was lifted by compressed air to bins 75 feet above the ground, with gravel and sand delivered by railroad cars to conveyor belts and transfer elevators. Giant mixers provided wet concrete to skip hoists in vertical towers that were extended as the building rose. Continuously employing 2,500 men and as many as 5,700 men altogether, the construction project lasted a year and a half into the early months of the Great Depression. With a foundation footprint of nearly two square city blocks, the building required 29 million bricks, 40 miles of plumbing, 380 miles of wiring, nearly 4,000,000 cubic yards of concrete, 200,000 cubic feet of stone, and 4,000 windows. Bethlehem Steel fabricated much of the 60,000 tons of steel. An estimated 7.5 miles of corridors and over 30 elevators were included in the construction. The total cost of construction was estimated to be $26 million.
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