The History Of The Empire State Building

Detailed history of the Empire State Building, including the massive effort to build the structure and its cultural and architectural significance.

Soaring above the heart of New York City, the Empire State Building stands as a testament to human ingenuity, vision, and determination. Since its inception, this iconic skyscraper has not only dominated the city’s skyline but also captured the imagination of people worldwide. In this journey through time, we’ll explore the rich history of the Empire State Building, from its ambitious construction during the Great Depression to its status as an enduring symbol of American resilience and architectural prowess.

The Vision and the Challenge

The story of the Empire State Building begins in the roaring 1920s, an era characterized by economic prosperity and architectural ambition. The concept was born from a competition to create the world’s tallest building, a testament to New York’s growing importance and the American spirit of progress.

The building itself was constructed during the Great Depression and is a living monument to that era and the city it so proudly illuminates.

The Empire State Building is located at Fifth and 34th Avenues. For 40 years after it was constructed, it held the record for being the largest skyscraper in the world. The building has starred in over 90 movies, and it remains one of New York City’s most popular tourist attractions.

At the time it was built, the Empire State Building was the center of a competition between Walter Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation and John Raskob, creator of General Motors. The competition, appropriately enough, was to see who could build the highest building first. And it was no small wager.

In 1929, Mr. Raskob set about this task with a group of very well-known investors that included Coleman du Pont and Pierre S. du Pont, president of E. I Du Pont de Nemours, Louis G. Kaufman, and Ellis P. Earl, from Empire State, Inc. The group named former Governor of New York and Presidential candidate Alfred E. Smith to head the corporation.

The excavation for the project began on January 22, 1930, and took only one year and 45 days to complete, or 7 million hours. The masonry for the structure was completed on May 1, 1931, significantly ahead of schedule. On that date, President Herbert Hoover pressed a button in Washington, D.C., to officially open the Empire State Building by turning on its lights.

The total cost to construct the skyscraper was $40,948,000, including the cost of the land. The building alone was constructed with a little over $24,000,000.

Construction workers of the Empire State Building

The onset of the Depression significantly reduced the amount needed to construct the building.

The total height of the building is 1,454 feet. The 86th-floor observatory, where visitors can overlook the Chrysler Building, Harlem River, and other scenes of New York City, is 1,050 feet above ground. There are 102 floors and 6,500 windows.

Originally, the building’s dirigible mast, now the base of the TV tower, was designed as a mooring mast for blimps. However, because of the volatile wind conditions at 1,350 feet and a few unsuccessful attempts, the idea was eventually abandoned.

The site used to construct the building was constructed by a group of investors in 1928. It was formerly the Waldolf-Astoria Hotel, which sold for $20 million.

After the building was constructed, the investment group initially had trouble finding tenants to occupy their rather monstrous building. Not only was it the height of the Depression, but Fifth Avenue and 34 Street were not prime locations for office space at the time. The building was kept in the hands of the original investors until 1951 when it was sold by the Raskob estate for $34 million to the group headed by Roger I. Stevens.

Then, in 1954, a Chicago group headed by Col. Henry J. Crown bought the building for $51.5 million.

The Icon of the Skyline

Since it was first built, the Empire State Building has lit up the New York City skyline in a diverse array of colors and designs, with an appeal like no other building could have. Since 1931, taller buildings have been erected, but perhaps none remain as famous as the Empire State Building.

There is also a deep history of the building, which includes the mishap when, in 1945, at the end of WWII, an Army Air Corps bomber plane crashed into the 79th floor in a dense fog. Since 1931, the building has also acted as the official welcoming landmark of New York to many of the world’s most renowned political and entertainment figures, like Fidel Castro, Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth, and Nikita Khrushchev.

Modern Renovations of the Empire State Building

In recent years, the Empire State Building has undergone significant renovations to modernize the structure and embrace sustainability.

The building’s recent retrofitting initiatives have focused on reducing energy consumption, making the Empire State Building a model of energy efficiency and environmental stewardship. While embracing modern technology, the renovations have been careful to preserve the building’s historic integrity, ensuring that its rich history and architectural beauty are maintained for future generations.

The Empire State Building’s story is one of bold ambition, innovative engineering, and unwavering spirit. From its conception to its standing today as an iconic landmark, the building encapsulates the essence of New York City and the broader American experience. As a symbol of hope, resilience, and progress, the Empire State Building continues to inspire and captivate, reminding us of the heights we can reach when vision, determination, and unity come together.

Scroll to Top