Frank Lloyd Wright was born in the agricultural town of Richland Center, Wisconsin, United States, just two years after the end of the American Civil War. Originally named Frank Lincoln Wright, he changed his name after his parents' divorce to honor his mother's Welsh family, the Lloyd Joneses. His father, William Carey Wright (1825 – 1904) was a locally admired orator, music teacher, occasional lawyer and itinerant minister. William Wright had met and married Anna Lloyd Jones (1838/39 – 1923), a county school teacher, the previous year when he was employed as the superintendent of schools for Richland County. Originally from Massachusetts, William Wright had been a Baptist minister but he later joined his wife's family in the Unitarian faith. Anna Lloyd Jones was a member of the large, prosperous and well-known Lloyd Jones family of Unitarians, who had emigrated from Wales to southwestern Wisconsin. Both of Wright's parents were strong-willed individuals with idiosyncratic interests that they passed on to Frank. In his biography his mother declared, when she was expecting her first child, that he would grow up to build beautiful buildings. She decorated his nursery with engravings of English Cathedrals torn from a periodical to encourage the infant's ambition. The family moved to Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1870 for William to minister a small congregation.
Anna visited the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and viewed an exhibit of educational blocks created by Friedrich Wilhelm August Froebel. The blocks, known as Froebel Gifts, were the foundation of his innovative kindergarten curriculum. A trained teacher, Anna was excited by the program and purchased a set for her family. As a child, Frank spent a great deal of time playing with the kindergarten educational blocks. These consisted of geometrically-shaped blocks that could be assembled in various combinations to form three-dimensional compositions. Wright in his autobiography talks about the influence of these exercises on his approach to design. Many of his buildings are notable for the geometrical clarity they exhibit.
The Wright family struggled financially in Weymouth and returned to Spring Green, Wisconsin, where the supportive Lloyd Jones clan could help William find employment. They settled in Madison, where William taught music lessons and served as the secretary to the newly formed Unitarian society. Although William was a distant parent, he shared his love of music, especially the works of Bach, with his children.
Soon after he turned 14—in 1881—Wright's parents separated. Anna had been unhappy for some time with William's inability to provide for his family and asked him to leave. The divorce was finalized in 1885 after William sued Anna for lack of physical affection. William left Wisconsin after the divorce and Wright claimed he never saw his father again. At this time Frank's middle name was changed from Lincoln to Lloyd. As the only male left in the family, Frank assumed financial responsibility for his mother and two sisters.
Wright attended a Madison high school but there is no evidence he ever graduated. He was admitted to the University of Wisconsin as a special student in 1886. While attending the university, he joined Phi Delta Theta fraternity, took classes part-time for two semesters, and worked with a professor of civil engineering, Allan D. Conover. In 1887, Wright left the school without taking a degree (although he was granted an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University in 1955) and moved to Chicago which was still rebuilding from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, where he joined the architectural firm of Joseph Lyman Silsbee. Within the year, he had left Silsbee to work for the firm of Adler & Sullivan as an apprentice to Louis Sullivan.
In 1889, he married his first wife, Catherine Lee "Kitty" Tobin (1871-1959), purchased land in Oak Park, Illinois, and built his first home, and eventually his studio there. His mother, Anna, soon followed Wright to the city, where he purchased a home adjacent to his newly built residence for her. His marriage to Kitty Tobin, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, raised his social status, and he became more well known.
Beginning in 1890, he was assigned all residential design work for the firm. In 1893, Louis Sullivan discovered that Wright had been accepting private commissions. Sullivan felt betrayed that his favored employee had designed houses "behind his back," and he asked Wright to leave the firm. Constantly in need of funds to support his growing family, Wright designed the homes to supplement his meager income. Wright referred to these houses as his "bootleg" designs and the homes are located near the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, on Chicago Avenue in Oak Park. After leaving Sullivan, Wright established his own practice at his home.
This practice was a remarkable collection of creative architectural designers. As his son John Lloyd Wright wrote, “William Eugene Drummond, Francis Barry Byrne, Walter Burley Griffin, Albert Chase McArthur, Marion Mahony, Isabel Roberts and George Willis were the draftsmen. Five men, two women. They wore flowing ties, and smocks suitable to the realm. The men wore their hair like Papa, all except Albert, he didn’t have enough hair. They worshiped Papa! Papa liked them! I know that each one of them was then making valuable contributions to the pioneering of the modern American architecture for which my father gets the full glory, headaches and recognition today!”
By 1901, Wright's completed projects numbered approximately fifty, including many houses in Oak Park.
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Oak Park, Illinois, 1889-1909
William Herman Winslow Residence, River Forest, Illinois, 1894
Ward Winfield Willits Residence, and Gardener’s Cottage and Stables, Highland Park, Illinois, 1901
Dana-Thomas House State Historic Site, Springfield, Illinois, 1902
Larkin Administration Building, Buffalo, New York, 1903
Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo, New York, 1903-1905
Unity Temple, Oak Park, Illinois, 1904
Burton J. Westcott Residence, Springfield, Ohio, 1908
Frederick C. Robie Residence, Chicago, Illinois, 1909
Taliesin I, Spring Green, Wisconsin, 1911
Midway Gardens, Chicago, Illinois, 1913
Imperial Hotel, Tokyo, Japan, 1923. Demolished, 1968
Entrance hall reconstructed in 1976 at Meiji Mura, near Nagoya, Japan Hollyhock House (Aline Barnsdall Residence), Los Angeles, California, 1919-21
Ennis Residence, Los Angeles, California, 1923
Graycliff (Darwin and Isabelle Martin summer estate, Buffalo, NY,1928
Fallingwater (Kaufmann country home) Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1935
Johnson Wax Headquarters, Racine, Wisconsin, 1936
Herbert F. Johnson Residence ("Wingspread"), Wind Point, WI, 1937
Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona, 1937
Usonian homes – Various locations, 1930's-1940's
Frank Lloyd Wright's Florida Southern College Works, 1940s
First Unitarian Society of Madison, Shorewood Hills, Wisconsin, 1947
Herman T. Mossberg Residence, South Bend, Indiana, 1948
Thomas Keys Residence, Rochester, Minnesota, 1950
Muirhead Farmhouse, Hampshire, Illinois, 1950
Louis Penfield House, Willoughby Hills, Ohio, 1955
Price Tower, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, 1956
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, designed in 1956, completed in 1961
Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael, CA, 1957–66 (featured in the movies Gattaca & THX 1138)
Samara (John E. Christian House), 1954
West Lafayette, Indiana Kentuck Knob, 1956
Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania The Illinois, mile-high tower in Chicago, 1956 (unbuilt)
Whipsuppenicke Silver House in Northborough, MA (in need of restoration)
Duncan House, Acme, Pennsylvania, 1957
Gammage Auditorium, Tempe, Arizona, 1964