December 2, 2023
The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is a 102-story skyscraper located in New York City. It’s named for New York, the “Empire State”. When the building opened in 1931, it was the tallest building in the world! It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

The Empire State Building was erected as part of a worldwide race to build the tallest structure. The United States previously held the record with the 555-foot Washington Monument, but then France built the 984-foot Eiffel Tower in 1889. By the early 20th century, architects across America tried to set new records.

The Metropolitan Life Tower signaled a start to the race in 1909; the building rose 700 feet and 50 stories. The 57-story Woolworth Building followed in 1913, and the 71-story Bank of Manhattan was completed in 1929. (Of course, since this was the Depression, there was ironically little demand for office space!)

Competition then intensified within New York State. Three skyscrapers were underway simultaneously: the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and 40 Wall Street. The Empire State Building’s rental manager, Hamilton Weber, described the architectural

contest: 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 [the financer] 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.

The Empire State Building architects decided to affix something to the top of the building for even more height. This led to a dirigible (blimp) docking station. However, the docking station did not last long. The building itself created powerful updrafts that made docking dangerous! The mooring devices are still in place, but the building’s current height (1,453 feet) comes from a large broadcast antennae added in 1952.

The Empire State Building houses 85 stories of commercial and office space totaling more than two million square feet. With 1,000 businesses inside, the building has its own zip code! The top 16 stories comprise the art deco tower, with observatories located on the 86th and 102nd floors. (High-powered binoculars are available for rent.) The skyscraper has 72 elevators, 70 miles of piping, and 2.5 million feet of electrical wiring. The entire building weighs an estimated 370,000 tons and cost $40 million to construct. Colored floodlights were added to the building’s tower in 1964. These are used to mark seasonal events like Christmas and tragedies like the World Trade Center attacks in 2001. Following September 11, 2001, the floodlights were kept red, white, and blue for several months. Blue lights were used on Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday and when he died. (This was a reference to his nickname, Ol’ Blue Eyes.) Sports events are also represented by lights; for example, a combination of orange, blue, and white signifies a New York Knicks home game. The Empire State Building was bathed in a royal purple to honor the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. This was a sign of thanks from the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg after the UK supported the United States in the aftermath of September 11th. The floodlights first celebrated a Muslim holiday in 2007 with green lights for Eid ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.

When the Empire State Building opened on May 1, 1931, it was the tallest building in the world at 1,250 feet high. Towering over the corner of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street, it became an instant icon of New York City. The building remained the world’s tallest until the World Trade Center’s North Tower was erected in 1972. The Sears Tower in Chicago surpassed both in 1973. After the September 11th attacks in New York, the Empire State Building once again became the tallest building in the state, and the second- tallest in the country. The United Arab Emirates set the world record in 2007 while building the Burj Dubai skyscraper.

Although “super-skyscrapers” are now being constructed worldwide, the Empire State Building made achievements that prompted the American Society of Civil Engineers to name it one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.