Learning Adventures in Citizenship
Episode 5Topic 5The Empire State Building
The Empire State Building

In July 1930, the 1,046-foot Chrysler Building seemed as though it had won the skyscraper war. However, in October of that year, construction began on a structure at Fifth Avenue and 34th Street that would soon tower over the Manhattan skyline -- the Empire State Building.

The first steel girders were erected on April 7, 1930. The estimated cost of the project was 50 million dollars. The main investors in the Empire State Building were a self-made millionaire John J. Raskob, who founded General Motors, and industrialist Pierre du Pont. A former Governor of New York, Alfred E. Smith, was given the job of heading up the construction.

Thanks to assembly-line production, and the hard work of as many as 3,500 employees at once, the construction was completed in record time. Once the frame was built, the building was completed at a rate of a floor a day. When it was done, it stood 102 stories (1,250 feet) high -- over 250 feet higher than the Eiffel Tower.

In the middle of the building process, architect Richmond Shreve boasted, "Six months ago, the working drawings . . . had not begun; one year from now, it will have been completed . . . fifty million dollars . . . twenty thousand tenants...two million square feet...fifty thousand tons of steel . . . rising nearly a quarter mile."

The Empire State Building was finished on May 1, 1931 -- 45 days ahead of schedule and about five million dollars under budget. During the opening ceremonies, President Hoover pressed a button to light up the building. Unfortunately, due to the Depression, nearly half of the building remained unused, giving it the nickname the "Empty State Building."

The original plan for the Empire State Building called for the top stories to be used as a "mooring mast" to help secure blimps while passengers disembarked. Although two blimps did successfully make contact with the mast, this idea was soon abandoned. Instead, the 86th and 102nd stories became observatory decks. On a clear day, tourists on these floors can see distances as far as 80 miles away.

The Empire State Building remained the tallest building in the world until the 1970s, when the World Trade Towers were built. Soon after, even taller skyscrapers claimed the title of tallest building in the world. Although the Empire State Building is no longer the world's tallest building, it is still visited by millions of tourists each year, and has been featured in over 90 movies, ranging from KING KONG to SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE.

Higher and Higher | The Empire State Building

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