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Biographical Note | A Finding Aid to the Albert Kahn papers, 1875-1970, bulk 1875-1945

Albert Kahn papers, 1875-1970, bulk 1875-1945

Biographical Note

Albert Kahn (1869-1942) of Detroit, Michigan, was an architect, primarily known for designing industrial buildings with the pioneering use of reinforced concrete that allowed large unobstructed interiors.
Albert Kahn was born on March 21, 1869 in Rhaunen, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, the oldest son of rabbi Joseph Kahn and Rosalie Cohn Kahn. The family immigrated to the United States in 1881 and settled in Detroit, Michigan.
Albert Kahn worked as an office boy in an architect's office and studied drawing in Sunday classes conducted by sculptor Julius Melchers. Melchers found Kahn a position in the architectural offices of Mason and Rice where he worked for several years. In 1890, Kahn won a scholarship to travel in Europe to study architecture and in 1895 he opened his own architectural office, Albert Kahn Associates, hiring his younger brothers, Louis, Moritz, and Felix. In the following year, Kahn married Ernestine Krolik.
In 1903, Kahn was awarded his first two important commissions: to design the University of Michigan's engineering building and the Palm Apartments in Detroit, built with the early use of reinforced concrete. In the following year, he built the first reinforced concrete factory for the Packard Motor Company. Because of the industrial growth in Detroit at that time, Kahn was in demand to design various automobile factories including the General Motors Building, textile, business machine, and chemical plants. He became an authority on concrete construction and by the beginning of the First World War, his firm provided construction for the military aviation section of the Army.
Kahn later moved from using concrete to steel and glass. In 1927, his company finished a large building for the Fisher Brothers of Detroit for which he was awarded a medal by the Architectural League of New York for the year's outstanding contribution to architecture. In the following year his firm was given full charge of the entire heavy industrial building program of Russia's first five-year plan, and they constructed an estimated two billion dollars worth of factories in Russia.
During World War II, Kahn's firm was constantly busy constructing naval air bases, airplane engine plants, tank arsenals including the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant, and other government defense projects. In June 1942 Kahn was given the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts by Syracuse University.
Albert Kahn died on December 8, 1942 in Detroit, Michigan.