Biography of John Wellborn Root

             John Wellborn Root was born in Lumpkin, Georgia on January 10, 1850. After a brief life as both a successful architect and writer, he died in Chicago Illinois on January 15, 1891. Root first went to school in Atlanta, Georgia, then near Liverpool in England at Clare Mount School. He graduated in 1869 from New York University where he was educated as a civil engineer. At Renwick & Sands, an architectural firm in New York, Root was apprenticed for a year, then worked for another New York based architectural firm, John Butler Snook, who was then building the vast Grand Central Station for Cornelius Vanderbilt (Zanten, "Root” 137). Following the disastrous fire of 1871, Root moved to Chicago in January 1872 to become a potential partner and head draughtsman with Peter Bonnett Wight who had formed a partnership with William H. Drake and Asher Carter. Soon after, Daniel Burnham entered Wight's office. "It was in Mr. Wight's office,” records Mr. Burnham, "that I first became acquainted with John Wellborn Root, with whom I at once formed an acquaintance which lasted until the end of his life” (Moore, 17). Burnham and Root set up Burnham and Root in 1873, with Root as the designer and Burnham the businessman and organizer (Zanten, "Root” 137). Although Root was nearly four years younger than Burnham, he was better trained in his profession (Moore, 17). Starting as a widespread financial crisis, the economic depression of 1873 made it a tricky time to begin a practice, but advantageous connections, including Burnham's 1876 marriage to Margaret Sherman, the daughter of John B. Sherman, lead to a series of important domestic commissions for the firm, starting with a house for Sherman (Zanten, "Root” 137). "The alliance of Root & Burnham represented one of the first important confrontations of the older, more traditional, more fully rounded architectural craftsman with the newer architectural entrepreneur and business executive” (Hines, "Burnham of Chicago” 24).

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