Lately, I've been watching these videos about how a lot of buildings allegedly built in the mid-to-late 19th century (1800s) look extremely old even on the photos taken when they were supposedly just built.

For example, the ones apparently built as "temporary" buildings for the 1893 world's fair in Chicago look absolutely massive and impressive beyond words.

I'm not entirely "sold" by the person in question, who keeps coming back to the idea that just because the people seen on the photos use horses and wagons to move around, they cannot possibly possess the physical ability to build those huge and intricate stone buildings, and get all the building material there in the first place. I still think that it's quite possible and even likely that they did, but I just don't understand how.

This has made me very curious, and I've attempted to search for photos showing them being built. However, I've so far only been able to find one single, ultra-low-resolution photo depicting one of the unfinished buildings in some sort of "steel skeleton" state, and that might as well have been a drawing considering the bad quality. I need something more concrete (no pun intended).

Could somebody find some of these supposedly existing but very elusive high-resolution photos and information of those mentioned buildings as they are being built, or any other major stone buildings built in the 19th century? I'm especially curious about the ones suddenly present in the USA in a time when they had apparently barely started creating small towns, but the author of said videos make a point of repeating that these same "Roman-style" buildings seem to have been built almost all over the planet and seem to be much, much older than claimed.

I'm looking for evidence of their unfinished state, with large cranes, various machinery and people actually working on them present on the photos. It's driving me crazy not being able to find anything like that, but surely they must have documented such major building projects? I'm very curious as to just how they were built. Gigantic pillars and stone blocks, etc. All of the photos I've been able to find only show the finished buildings, but never the construction process or any hint at all those streets and cities being planned in advance rather than just appearing basically overnight.

I'd love to be able to put this particular thing behind me, but so far, it almost seems like he's right. On the other hand, I seem to recall seeing photos of skyscrapers being built, but those were well into the 20th century, were they not? The time period I'm talking about here is more 1800-1899.

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    The people who built the pyramids had even less sophisticated tools. The people who built Notre Dame didn’t have 19th century tools. Arguing that your grandparents were idiots isn’t very convincing.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 22 at 16:25
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    What you need to research is cranes. Here for instance is a pic from 1868 showing one in place on Cologne Cathedral since the 15th century. The same method of 'building your way up' has been in place for centuries.
    – justCal
    Commented Jun 22 at 18:08
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    @justCal Good find, but I'm more than a little confused about why they would be using a 15th century crane in 1868?
    – A. Lugg
    Commented Jun 22 at 19:18
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    Still in place from earlier construction.
    – justCal
    Commented Jun 22 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


Be careful of just what you see that makes buildings "seem to be much, much older than claimed". Prior to about 1870, large buildings could be built only with very thick masonry bearing walls. That "looks old" to us today because we are used to thin-walled buildings built around steel cages and columns. In particular, this more modern construction allows for much, much, larger windows even on the ground floors.

This video by William Friedman nicely summarizes the changes between roughly 1870 and 1900. In particular, he discusses the construction differences between the 1891 Dakota Apartments in NYC

enter image description here

and the 1885 Home Insurance Building in Chicago:

enter image description here.

Note that the Dakota Apartments are still standing and in use - as Friedman puts it, because having 2 foot thick brick walls between you and your neighbours remains an attractive feature commanding a truly premium price, even in NYC.


Possibly you might want to google "construction of Philadelphia City Hall" and look at images of it under construction.

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