One of the world’s most famous buildings, the Empire State broke all height records when it was finished. Construction began in March 1930, not long after the Wall Street Crash, and by the time it opened in 1931, it was so hard to find anyone to fill it that it was nicknamed “the Empty State Building.” Only the popularity of its observatories saved it from bankruptcy. However, the building was soon seen as a symbol of New York throughout the world.
THE SKYSCRAPER RACE
With the construction of Paris’s Eiffel Tower in 1889, US architects were challenged to build ever higher, and at the start of the 20th century the skyscraper race began. By 1929, New York’s Bank of Manhattan Building, at 972 ft (283 m), was the city’s tallest skyscraper, but Walter Chrysler, the famous car manufacturer, was planning to top that height. John Jakob Raskob, of rival General Motors, decided to join the race and, with Rerre S. Du Pont, was a major investor in the Empire State project. Chrysler kept the height of his building a secret, so Raskob had to be flexible in his planning. He first aimed at building 85 floors but, unsure of Chrysler’s goal, he kept going until the building reached 102 floors, and by adding a tower, beat Chrysler by 204 ft (62 m).
THE EMPIRE STATE’S DESIGNERS
The Shreve, Lamb & Harmon company had designed some of the most notable skyscrapers in Manhattan. By the time work on the Empire State Building began, they had designed seven buildings, including 40 Wall Street (now the Trump Building), at 70 floors, which was completed in only 11 months. With a team of top engineers and contractors, using up to 3,000 workers, the Empire State Building, too, was completed under budget and in record time.
The modern skyscraper would not have been possible without several building innovations. Elevators had been in use for some time, but it was not until Elisha Otis’s 1854 demonstration of his safety brake that the public began to trust them. The second necessary development was the structural steel skeleton, seen in the world’s first skyscraper in 1885. With this construction, the walls became merely a sheathing, not a load-bearing element, and enormously tall, heavy buildings could now rise ever higher. Building in the heart of Manhattan presented a further problem: large amounts of essential construction material could not be kept in the street. To solve this, the aluminum elements were prefabricated and only three days’ worth of structural steel was kept on site, creating an extremely complicated organizational job.
Suspended high above Fifth Avenue, this steel worker was one of many men whose bravery was well documented in a series of photographs taken during the construction of the building.
The main entrance has a central window with cross-hatched panes that bring natural light into the lobby.
Fifth Avenue Entrance lobby
A relief image of the skyscraper is superimposed on a map of New York State in the marble-lined lobby.
The Empire State remains as imposing and elegant as when it first opened, although it has been surpassed in height and bulk.
A natural lightning conductor, the building is struck up to 100 times a year. The observation decks are closed during inclement weather.
Views from the Observatory
The 86th floor has outdoor observation decks for bird’s-eye views of Manhattan. On a clear day, visitors can see more than 80 miles (125 km) in all directions. The observatory on the 102nd floor closed in 1994.
The building was designed to be erected easily and speedily with everything possible prefabricated and slotted into place at a rate of about four stories per week.
The metal, glass, and aluminium tower on top of the building was designed as a mooring mast for airships, but this soon proved impractical. The tower was later converted into a television mast and now transmits TV and radio to the city and four other US states.
The top 30 floors are floodlit during special and seasonal events.
Empire State Run-Up
In this annual event, it takes fit runners just 10 minutes to race up the 1,576 steps from the lobby to the 86th floor.
This is made from 60,000 tons of steel and was built in 23 weeks.
These were used instead of stone around the 6,500 windows. The steel trim masks rough edges on the facing.
Art Deco Medallions
Displayed throughout the lobby, these depict symbols of the modern age.
New Yorkers are justifiably proud of their city’s symbol, which towers above the icons of other countries.
ART DECO DESIGN
The Empire State Building is considered New York‘s last Art Deco masterpiece. The movement flourished from the 1920s to the 1940s and was noted for its use of crisp, graphic lines, geometric shapes, and vertical setbacks evocative of Aztec pyramid temples.
The Empire State Building has been seen in many movies. However, the finale from the 1933 classic King Kong is easily its most famous guest appearance, as the giant ape straddles the spire to do battle with army aircraft. In 1945, a real bomber flew too low over Manhattan in fog and struck the building just above the 78th floor. The luckiest escape was that of a young elevator operator whose cabin plunged 79 floors. The emergency brakes saved her life.
March 1930: Building work begins. By October, 88floors are completed, and there are 14 to go.
1931: The Empire State Building opens; it is the tallest building in the world.
1977: The first annual Empire State Run-Up takes place.
2002: Donald Trump sells the Empire State Building to a property consortium.