William Jenney was born in Fairhaven, Massachusetts in 1832. He studied engineering in the U.S. and Paris in the 1850's. He entered the Union Army in 1861 as an assistant in the Engineering Department at Cairo and later served with Grant and Sherman. When the Civil War came to an end, he was engineer in charge of the Engineer Headquarters at Nashville.
Jenney came to Chicago in 1867 and established an architectural office the following year. He was a published author and lecturer in the field of engineering in the 1880's. Although Jenney was much more an architect than an engineer, many notable Chicago architects trained under him. The Home Insurance Building was a prototype for many Chicago skyscrapers to come.