Charles McKim (1847–1909), William Rutherford Mead (1846–1928), and Stanford White (1853–1906) established their architectural practice in 1879 and designed a wide array of residential, institutional, industrial, and commercial buildings throughout the eastern United States. Influenced by their extensive travels in Europe (McKim studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris), the partners predominantly designed their work in the Beaux-Arts style.
Proponents of the City Beautiful Movement, the firm contributed several designs to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which first introduced the movement in the United States. Their architectural designs often included outdoor spaces and elements of urban planning concepts. Such projects include the Boston Public Library Courtyard, Newport Casino, Rhode Island, Columbia University in the City of New York, and, on a residential scale, The Orchard estate (now Whitefield Condominiums) in Southampton, New York. The firm often designed memorial features that were inserted into existing park designs, including Grand Army Plaza at Prospect Park in Brooklyn and the Washington Square Arch in the Greenwich Village Park. The firm, which continued under new leadership for more than three decades after the death of the last original partner, grew to more than 100 designers and trained nearly a dozen significant twentieth-century designers, including John Carrère and Thomas Hastings.