Palmer House

Chicago, Illinois | C.1871

Photo Credit: Travis Lickey

When the Palmer House opened on Chicago’s downtown Loop 150 years ago, elevators were kind of a big deal. Always a trailblazer in the hospitality industry, the Palmer House was Chicago’s first hotel with elevators, electric light bulbs, and telephones in the guest rooms. In fact, as an act of love of luxurious proportions, real estate developer Potter Palmer had gifted the hotel as a wedding present to his young bride, Bertha Honoré.

Perhaps “a diamond is forever,” but a hotel as a wedding gift is not, apparently: just 13 days after the Palmer Houses’ completion, it was burnt to the ground in The Great Chicago Fire. But with Bertha’s support—plus a $1.7 million loan—Palmer House number two was built across the street in 1873, containing seven stories and suitably dubbed, “The World’s Only Fire-Proof Hotel” (constructed of mainly iron and brick).

From the celebrities and dignitaries that frequented the Palmer House at the turn of the 20th century, including Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde, to an 1895 meeting of representatives from various Midwestern universities which resulted in founding the Big Ten athletic conference, the trailblazing events continued for the hotel.

Presently, Palmer House is the second largest hotel in Chicago, and is a member of Historic Hotels of America, a National Trust for Historic Preservation. And what better way for Potter Palmer to preserve a place in America’s history books than to construct a building that is completely fireproof.

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