The man known to the world as Frank Lloyd Wright was originally named Frank Lincoln Wright. He was born on June 8, 1867, in Richland Center, Wisconsin, a farming town. His parents were William Carey Wright (1825-1904) and Anna Lloyd Jones (1838/39 – 1923). William Wright, originally from Massachusetts, was an orator, music teacher, occasional lawyer, itinerant minister, and was once a superintendent of schools; Anna, from Wisconsin, was a member of a large, prosperous, and well-known family as well as a school teacher. He was a Baptist minister but later joined her Unitarian faith. Both parents were “strong-willed individuals with idiosyncratic interests.”
When Anna was expecting Wright, she declared that her son “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.” She purchased a set of blocks created by Friedrich Wilhelm August Frobel that became “the foundation of his innovative kindergarten curriculum.” “Young Wright spent much time playing with the blocks. These were geometrically shaped and could be assembled in various combinations to form three-dimensional compositions.” He later wrote about the influence of the blocks on his life: “For several years I sat at the little Kindergarten table-top … and played … with the cube, the sphere and the triangle – these smooth wooden maple blocks … All are in my fingers to this day ….” “Many of his buildings are notable for their geometrical clarity.”
The Wright family moved to Wisconsin for financial help from the Lloyd Jones family. William taught music lessons and shared his love for music with his children. Wright was only 14 when his parents separated; they divorced in 1885. It was at this time that Wright changed his middle name from Lincoln to Lloyd in honor of his mother’s family, the Lloyd Joneses. He was now the only male left in the family and assumed financial responsibility for his mother and two sisters.
Wright attended Madison High School but left no proof of graduation; he also attended University of Wisconsin-Madison and left without a degree (receiving an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the University in 1955). He went to Chicago to look for employment. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 left the city with a great need for development, and he found work as a draftsman in an architectural firm. While at the firm, he worked on two projects for his family.
Frank Lloyd Wright became a famous architect, interior designer, writer, and educator; he designed more than 1,000 structures with 532 of them being completed. He believed structures should be in harmony with humanity and the environment. Among the structures Wright designed are offices, churches, schools, skyscrapers, hotels, and museums. He also designed furniture and stained glass, wrote 20 books plus many articles, and was a popular lecturer. He was recognized in 1991 as “the greatest American architect of all time” by the American Institute of Architects.
Frank Lloyd Wright was married three times: (1) Catherine “Kitty” (Tobin) Wright (1871-1959; she was a social worker and socialite; married in June 1889; divorced in November 1922); (2) Maude “Miriam” (Noel) Wright (1869-1930; she was an artist; married in November 1923; divorced in August 1927), and (3) Olga Ivanovna “Olgivanna” (Lazovich Milanoff) Lloyd Wright (1897-1985; she was a dancer and writer; married in August 1928). He was also the father of four sons and three daughters plus one adopted daughter of his third wife.
The children include Frank Lloyd Wright, Jr. (Lloyd Wright) (architect in Los Angeles); John Lloyd Wright (architect; invented Lincoln Logs in 1918 and practiced in San Diego); David Samuel Wright; Katherine Wright Baxter (mother of actress Anne Baxter); Iovanna, and adopted step-daughter Svetlana. Several grandchildren and great-grandchildren became architects and interior designers.
Wright passed away on April 9, 1959, in Phoenix, Arizona, at age 91, shortly after undergoing surgery. He was buried in the Lloyd-Joes cemetery in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Twenty-five years later – to honor the wishes of his third wife – his body was cremated and sent to Scottsdale, Arizona, where it was interred in the memorial garden. The original grave site in Wisconsin still carries his name even though empty.