Empire State Building

When the Empire State Building opened on May 1, 1931, it was the tallest building in the world – standing at 1,250 feet tall. This building not only became an icon of New York City, it became a symbol of twentieth century man’s attempts to achieve the impossible.

How did this gigantic icon get built? It started with a race to the sky.

The Race

When the Eiffel Tower (984 feet) was built in 1889 in Paris it, in a way, taunted American architects to build something taller. By the early twentieth century, a skyscraper race was on. By 1909 the Metropolitan Life Tower rose 700 feet (50 stories), quickly followed by the Woolworth Building in 1913 at 792 feet (57 stories), and soon surpassed by the Bank of Manhattan Building in 1929 at 927 feet (71 stories).

When John Jakob Raskob (previously a vice president of General Motors) decided to join in the skyscraper race, Walter Chrysler (founder of the Chrysler Corporation) was constructing a monumental building, the height of which he was keeping secret until the building’s completion. Not knowing exactly what height he had to beat, Raskob started construction on his own building.

In 1929, Raskob and his partners bought a parcel of property at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue for their new skyscraper. On this property sat the glamorous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Since the property on which the hotel was located had become extremely valuable, the owners of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel decided to sell the property and build a new hotel on Park Avenue (between 49th and 50th Streets). Raskob was able to purchase the site for approximately $16 million.

The Plan

After deciding on and obtaining a site for the skyscraper, Raskob needed a plan. Raskob hired Shreve, Lamb & Harmon to be the architects for his new building. It is said that Raskob pulled a thick pencil out of a drawer and held it up to William Lamb and asked, “Bill, how high can you make it so that it won’t fall down?”1

Lamb got started planning right away. Soon, he had a plan:

 

The logic of the plan is very simple. A certain amount of space in the center, arranged as compactly as possible, contains the vertical circulation, mail chutes, toilets, shafts and corridors. Surrounding this is a perimeter of office space 28 feet deep. The sizes of the floors diminish as the elevators decrease in number. In essence, there is a pyramid of non-rentable space surrounded by a greater pyramid of rentable space.2

But was the plan high enough to make the Empire State Building the tallest in the world? Hamilton Weber, the original rental manager, describes the worry:

 

We thought we would be the tallest at 80 stories. Then the Chrysler went higher, so we lifted the Empire State to 85 stories, but only four feet taller than the Chrysler. Raskob was worried that Walter Chrysler would pull a trick – like hiding a rod in the spire and then sticking it up at the last minute.3

The race was getting very competitive. With the thought of wanting to make the Empire State Building higher, Raskob himself came up with the solution. After examining a scale model of the proposed building, Raskob said, “It needs a hat!”4 Looking toward the future, Raskob decided that the “hat” would be used as a docking station for dirigibles. The new design for the Empire State Building, including the dirigible mooring mast, would make the building 1,250 tall (the Chrysler Building was completed at 1,046 feet with 77 stories).

Fun Fact About the Empire State Building

Where is the Empire State Building located? 
The Empire State Building is located at 350 Fifth Avenue (between 33rd and 34th Streets) in New York City.

How tall is it?
There are several numbers to describe the height of the Empire State Building. The total height of the building, including the lightning rod, is 1,454 feet. The height of the building from the ground to its tip is usually given as 1,250 feet. The measurement from the ground to the 102nd floor observatory is 1,224 feet and from the ground to the 86th floor observatory is 1,050 feet.

Who were the architects? 
Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates

Who built the Empire State Building?
The builders Starrett Bros. & Eken were contracted to build it.

How long did it take to build?
The building was actually completed ahead of schedule, taking only one year and 45 days to build.

How much did the Empire State Building cost to build?
The building itself cost $24,718,000 to build (nearly half the expected cost because of the Great Depression). Including the property on which the building sits, the total cost for the Empire State Building was $40,948,900.

How many floors are in the Empire State Building?
There are 102 floors.

How many steps are there to the top of the Empire State Building?
There are 1,860 from street level to 102nd floor.

How many windows are in the building?
There are 6,500 windows. What a lot to clean!

How many man-hours did it take to construct?
It took 7,000,000 man-hours.

How many people worked on the building?
At peak times, there were as many as 3,400 workers at one time.

How much steel did it take to construct the frame?
It took 57,000 tons of steel to construct the steel skeleton.

How much telephone wire is in the Empire State Building?
There is approximately 17 million feet of telephone wire servicing the building.

How many people died while building the Empire State Building?
Though rumors of hundreds of people dying on the work site circulated during the time of its construction, official records state that only five workers were killed: one worker was struck by a truck; a second fell down an elevator shaft; a third was hit by a hoist; a fourth was in a blast area; and a fifth fell off a scaffold.

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