Martin Ryerson (1818-1887) brought his lumber business to Chicago in 1850. He invested his lumber wealth in real estate, hiring the firm of Adler & Sullivan to build four office buildings. Upon Ryerson's death in 1887, Louis Sullivan was commissioned to design this mausoleum.
Louis Sullivan's design drew upon Egyptian traditions. For the base, he chose the form of the mastaba, a flat-roofed structure with sloped sides that pre-dates pyramids. Above the mastaba Sullivan placed a pyramid. The black granite gives a very solid and dramatic look to the entire structure.