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Imagine the Great Northern as a case of beer in a cardboard sleeve

Six pack 1The Great Northern grain elevator, despite the tear in its brick wrapper, is in no more danger of collapsing than a six pack of Genny cans left out on your deck in the rain. That's because not only is the 30-pack of steel cylinders strong on its own (each can withstand internal pressures of 17,000 lbs. per square inch), each is bolted to eight massive steel columns, which are then bolted to every adjacent cylindrical bin. On top of everything, the roof and cupola (themselves composed of girders up to 60 inches deep) are supported by a series of these same columns. The entire vast assemblage is attached to gargantuan footings which rest on 6,000 piles that go to bedrock.

Great Northern  Hole  Full Moon_12.12.2021 NancyJParisi-1Why the big hole, then? Imagine someone left your six-pack out in the rain. It is sitting on the deck next to the cooler, pathetically soggy, as you start cleaning things up. Your foot bumps against it, tearing the cardboard sleeve. But the cans stay put! Now imagine those cans attached to each other with one of those plastic thingamabobs. Then add a hundred more. That's how solid the Great Northern is. You could pick up that six-pack and throw it across the yard. It is going to be intact after it lands, even if the cardboard sleeve is totally shorn off. The sleeve doesn't support anything.

Screen Shot 2022-01-08 at 9.36.25 AMIf you want a more wholesome image, imagine a vintage steel milk crate. Imagine instead of holding bottles it is holding steel cans. The cans are riveted to the carrier's steel frame.  Nothing is tearing that framework asunder.

Below are illustrations of the ingeniously engineered structure of the Great Northern as documented by the Historic American Engineering Record ( a collaboration of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the National Park Service,  and the Library of Congress) and in the 1990 application for landmark status on file in City Hall. Buffalo Commissioner of Permits and Inspections James Comerford never availed himself of this information before he came to the irrational decision that the Great Northern could collapse or its cupola blow off in its entirety and ordered an emergency demolition. The order can be revoked by Mayor Byron Brown.

Great Northern Scientic Am cover image
The 30-pack of the Great Northern's primary bins is standing on its own in this depiction of the elevator from the cover of Scieniftic American, Dec. 25, 1897. The workhouse or cupola, supported by columns rising from the foundation and anchored to bedrock is under construction from the north end. The brick wrapper is being raised last.
Great Northern bins & columns
Diagram of the primary bins and secondary bins interconnected with primary and secondary structural columns. A set of primary columns rose from the basement to support the roof and cupola.
Great Northern HAER Basement  clean-up cart 1985
Massive 29” x 30” main columns, plus scores of others, combine with the steel bins to form a single immovable mass of steel that will keep the Great Northern standing for centuries
Great Northern bin bolts & rivets
Each bin is bolted to each of eight surrounding columns, which are bolted to all abutting bins, forming a monolithic construction which would survive the strongest earthquake imaginable. View of a Great Northern bin interior.


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