Did New York skyscrapers construction workers take any industrial action over safety concerns?

Did New York skyscrapers construction workers take any industrial action over safety concerns?

This video talks about the construction of New York's skyscrapers such as the Chrysler Building and Empire State by the 'roughnecks', a specialized set of construction workers who worked high in the clouds for 8-hours at a stretch without bathroom breaks and deftly catching hot rivets.

But according to the Smithsonian video, two out of five of the roughnecks fell to their deaths or ended up disabled. Did such hazardous working conditions cause any instances of strikes or revolts from the workers? Were there any attempts to unionize and lobby for better working conditions?

Metropolis (1927 film)

Metropolis is a 1927 German expressionist science-fiction drama film directed by Fritz Lang. Written by Thea von Harbou in collaboration with Lang, [5] [6] it stars Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, and Brigitte Helm. Erich Pommer produced it in the Babelsberg Studios for Universum Film A.G. (UFA). The silent film is regarded as a pioneering science-fiction movie, being among the first feature-length movies of that genre. [7] Filming took place over 17 months in 1925–26 at a cost of more than five million Reichsmarks. [8]

  • 153 minutes (original)
  • 116 minutes (1927 edit)
  • 105–107 minutes (1927 US)[3][4]
  • 128 minutes (1927 UK)[3]
  • 118 minutes (August 1927)
  • 91 minutes (1936)
  • 83 minutes (1984)
  • 124 minutes (2001)
  • 148 minutes (2010)

Made in Germany during the Weimar period, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city master, and Maria, a saintly figure to the workers, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes in their city and bring the workers together with Joh Fredersen, the city master. The film's message is encompassed in the final inter-title: "The Mediator Between the Head and the Hands Must Be the Heart".

Metropolis met a mixed reception upon release. Critics found it visually beautiful and powerful – the film's art direction by Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, and Karl Vollbrecht draws influence from opera, Bauhaus, Cubist, and Futurist design, [9] along with touches of the Gothic in the scenes in the catacombs, the cathedral and Rotwang's house [3] – and lauded its complex special effects, but accused its story of being naive. [10] H. G. Wells described the film as "silly", and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls the story "trite" and its politics "ludicrously simplistic". [3] The film's alleged Communist message was also criticized. [11]

The film's extensive running time also came in for criticism, and Metropolis was cut substantially after its German premiere, with a large portion of Lang's original footage removed. Many attempts have been made since the 1970s to restore the film. In 1984, Italian music producer Giorgio Moroder released a truncated version with a soundtrack by rock artists including Freddie Mercury, Loverboy, and Adam Ant. In 2001, a new reconstruction of Metropolis was shown at the Berlin Film Festival. In 2008, a damaged print of Lang's original cut of the film was found in a museum in Argentina. After a long restoration process that required additional materials provided by a print from New Zealand, the film was 95% restored and shown on large screens in Berlin and Frankfurt simultaneously on 12 February 2010.

Metropolis is now widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, ranking 35th in Sight & Sound ' s 2012 critics' poll. [12] In 2001, the film was inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, the first film thus distinguished. [13]

The Nineteenth Century

Before the late nineteenth century we know little about the safety of American workplaces because contemporaries cared little about it. As a result, only fragmentary information exists prior to the 1880s. Pre-industrial laborers faced risks from animals and hand tools, ladders and stairs. Industrialization substituted steam engines for animals, machines for hand tools, and elevators for ladders. But whether these new technologies generally worsened the dangers of work is unclear. What is clear is that nowhere was the new work associated with the industrial revolution more dangerous than in America.

US Was Unusually Dangerous

Americans modified the path of industrialization that had been pioneered in Britain to fit the particular geographic and economic circumstances of the American continent. Reflecting the high wages and vast natural resources of a new continent, this American system encouraged use of labor saving machines and processes. These developments occurred within a legal and regulatory climate that diminished employer’s interest in safety. As a result, Americans developed production methods that were both highly productive and often very dangerous. 3

Accidents Were “Cheap”

While workers injured on the job or their heirs might sue employers for damages, winning proved difficult. Where employers could show that the worker had assumed the risk, or had been injured by the actions of a fellow employee, or had himself been partly at fault, courts would usually deny liability. A number or surveys taken about 1900 showed that only about half of all workers fatally injured recovered anything and their average compensation only amounted to about half a year’s pay. Because accidents were so cheap, American industrial methods developed with little reference to their safety. 4


Nowhere was the American system more dangerous than in early mining. In Britain, coal seams were deep and coal expensive. As a result, British mines used mining methods that recovered nearly all of the coal because they used waste rock to hold up the roof. British methods also concentrated the working, making supervision easy, and required little blasting. American coal deposits by contrast, were both vast and near the surface they could be tapped cheaply using techniques known as “room and pillar” mining. Such methods used coal pillars and timber to hold up the roof, because timber and coal were cheap. Since miners worked in separate rooms, labor supervision was difficult and much blasting was required to bring down the coal. Miners themselves were by no means blameless most were paid by the ton, and when safety interfered with production, safety often took a back seat. For such reasons, American methods yielded more coal per worker than did European techniques, but they were far more dangerous, and toward the end of the nineteenth century, the dangers worsened (see Table 1). 5

Table 1
British and American Mine Safety, 1890 -1904
(Fatality rates per Thousand Workers per Year)

Years American Anthracite American Bituminous Great Britain
1890-1894 3.29 2.52 1.61
1900-1904 3.13 3.53 1.28

Source: British data from Great Britain, General Report. Other data from Aldrich, Safety First.


Nineteenth century American railroads were also comparatively dangerous to their workers – and their passengers as well – and for similar reasons. Vast North American distances and low population density turned American carriers into predominantly freight haulers – and freight was far more dangerous to workers than passenger traffic, for men had to go in between moving cars for coupling and uncoupling and ride the cars to work brakes. The thin traffic and high wages also forced American carriers to economize on both capital and labor. Accordingly, American carriers were poorly built and used few signals, both of which resulted in many derailments and collisions. Such conditions made American railroad work far more dangerous than that in Britain (see Table 2). 6

Table 2
Comparative Safety of British and American Railroad Workers, 1889 – 1901
(Fatality Rates per Thousand Workers per Year)

1889 1895 1901
British railroad workers
All causes
1.14 0.95 0.89
British trainmen a
All causes
4.26 3.22 2.21
Coupling 0.94 0.83 0.74
American Railroad workers
All causes
2.67 2.31 2.50
American trainmen
All causes
8.52 6.45 7.35
Coupling 1.73c 1.20 0.78
Braking b 3.25c 2.44 2.03

Source: Aldrich, Safety First, Table 1 and Great Britain Board of Trade, General Report.

Note: Death rates are per thousand employees.
a. Guards, brakemen, and shunters.
b. Deaths from falls from cars and striking overhead obstructions.


American manufacturing also developed in a distinctively American fashion that substituted power and machinery for labor and manufactured products with interchangeable arts for ease in mass production. Whether American methods were less safe than those in Europe is unclear but by 1900 they were extraordinarily risky by modern standards, for machines and power sources were largely unguarded. And while competition encouraged factory managers to strive for ever-increased output, they showed little interest in improving safety. 7

Worker and Employer Responses

Workers and firms responded to these dangers in a number of ways. Some workers simply left jobs they felt were too dangerous, and risky jobs may have had to offer higher pay to attract workers. After the Civil War life and accident insurance companies expanded, and some workers purchased insurance or set aside savings to offset the income risks from death or injury. Some unions and fraternal organizations also offered their members insurance. Railroads and some mines also developed hospital and insurance plans to care for injured workers while many carriers provided jobs for all their injured men. 8

Test 1 questions

b) It was undermined by literacy and property qualifications in southern states.

c) It effectively restructured political power in the South until 1920.

b) The Methodist Church rejected the newly freed blacks.

c) They associated Christianity with slavery and therefore abandoned it.

b) It granted the vote to adult black males in all states.

c) It explicitly granted all black adults the right to vote.

b) Only states with black majorities elected blacks to office.

c) Blacks held a majority in over half the state legislatures for a short time.

b) It encouraged Republicans to take on southern labor policies.

c) It allowed Republicans to ignore black rights in the future.

b) The pardons restored property (except slaves) to rebel soldiers.

c) The pardons forgave debts incurred during the war.

b) Literacy rates rose sharply across the South.

b) High-ranking Confederate officials had to renounce their allegiance to the government in Richmond.

c) Fifty percent of the voting population needed to pledge allegiance to the United States before forming a new government.

b) Restoration of much of the land in the Southwest to Native Americans

c) Expansion of the area covered by the reservation system to include all Native Americans

b) Laboring in a large mining company for a period of years

c) Working regularly in a variety of different mines

b) An increasing number of laborers worked land they would never own

c) The total number of farms fell by more than half

b) The government cleared Indian land for white settlement but lived up to most of the promises it made to the Indians.

c) The government attempted to prevent white settlers from taking more Indian land.

b) It was rumored that the Indians were waiting to ambush the troops.

c) American soldiers feared an uprising provoked by a militant interpretation of the Ghost Dance religion.

b) Mining made it the country's largest industrial region.

c) The region proved to be a haven for family farming.

b) The treaty was violated by the U.S. government after gold was discovered in the Black Hills.

c) The treaty led to the extinction of the Sioux Indians.

b) 160 acres free to any citizen or prospective citizen who settled on land west of the Mississippi River for five years

c) Free agricultural implements and enough money to live for one year to all citizens willing to cultivate land west of the Mississippi River

b) They solidified their claim to historic land.

c) Their numbers increased from 19 percent to 82 percent of the state's total population.

c) To decrease the Chinese population of the American West

b) the federal government had a tight rein on industrial development at the time.

b) Both testified to big business's concern about government abuses in chartering and licensing corporations.

b) Use as an additive to make paint adhere better to plaster surfaces

c) Use as a food additive to retard spoilage

b) Steel produced through the Bessemer process

c) Salt-treated railroad ties, which provided a substantial base for train tracks

b) increased states' regulation of the railroads.

c) led to passage of the first federal law regulating the railroad industry.

b) They decided to take up a major role in the behind-the-scenes work of presidential politics.

c) They turned inward and refused to engage in the political process.

b) Voters believed that failure to participate in politics had greatly contributed to the Civil War.

c) Most Americans were very knowledgeable about the issues of the day.

b) The states of the old Confederacy, which continued to lobby for the reinstitution of slavery

c) The states of the old Confederacy, which voted Republican in every election for the next seventy years

b) meatpacking interests formerly controlled by the Armour and Swift companies.

c) oil interests formerly controlled by John D. Rockefeller.

b) businessmen bribed congressmen to stay out of their affairs in exchange for stock trading tips.

c) the Supreme Court increasingly was reinterpreting the Constitution to the detriment of big business.

b) Only in government offices

b) the decision by Congress in 1873 to stop buying and minting gold.

c) the decision by Congress in 1873 to stop buying and minting silver.

b) Millionaires should be trustees and agents for the poor.

c) His own success was more due to luck than hard work.

b) It concentrated on one aspect of production to the exclusion of all others.

c) It restructured the administrative hierarchy and, in the process, revolutionized managerial productivity.

b) It was not as strong as it had been in the 1880s.

c) It had cut its workforce to 50,000 people.

b) The growth of industrialism in the United States

b) he was making American business more democratic and competitive.

c) he should make a huge amount of money and then give it all away before he died.

b) Federal restrictions of rates and railroad company competition

c) Monetary aid and land grants from federal and state governments

a) They made domestic service an honorable occupation for native-born American women to pursue.

b) They had become a fixture of almost three-quarters of all urban households.

c) They freed working women from the obligation of keeping house after working outside the home all day.

a) Foreign countries began to manufacture most of the world's clothing.

b) Independent tailors were replaced by sweatshop workers.

c) The supply of cheap labor dried up.

a) envisioned a union that would include skilled and unskilled workers.

b) fought for higher pay and better working conditions for skilled labor.

c) absolutely opposed strikes as a strategy for change.

b) Western Europe almost exclusively.

c) Eastern and Southern Europe.

b) remained remarkably similar to those of preindustrial America.

c) favored working-class women who no longer had to rely on men to pay for their entertainment.

a) It dropped to virtually nothing owing to strict enforcement of child labor laws.

b) It gradually decreased until it fell below 5 percent of the population.

c) It remained much the same as it had been in 1870.

a) for economic opportunities and safety.

b) to join the Socialist Democratic party.

a) At home by taking in boarders

b) Outside the home as typists

c) Outside the home as domestics

a) The decline of corporate power

b) The advent of cast iron

c) The advent of structural steel

a) by replacing people with machines.

b) through hiring factory foremen to supervise every aspect of production.

c) through the use of violence and intimidation.

a) America's frontier spirit

b) The rapid decline of immigration to the United States

c) The ascendancy of urban America

a) It involved railroad workers who wanted higher wages.

b) It began as a rally of laborers organized by radicals.

c) It took place in Boston on the Fourth of July.

a) An assembly of scholars and reformers who sought to address the city's urban decay

b) A coalition of mob bosses and thugs who ruled the city's politics after the Great Fire

c) A skilled group of architects who made commercial architecture a new art form

a) extend their sphere of influence to include charity work.

b) integrate workplace and home as much as possible.

c) work outside the home to make ends meet.

a) The only union to exclude blacks and women

b) A group focused exclusively on native-born skilled workers

c) The first mass organization for American workers

a) an especially effective mayor who oversaw a large city as it industrialized.

b) a professional politician who provided public works and social services for new residents.

c) a city councilor who had served at least three consecutive terms.

a) a concentration of plant matter to ensure sufficient oxygen production.

b) a delivery route for businesses on the streets lining the park.

c) a natural oasis away from the busyness of the city.

a) did not ensure financial security.

b) required a secondary education.
Incorrect Response
c) meant guaranteed wages and year-round work.

a) Strikes were not an effective way to gain the attention of authorities.

b) They lacked power individually but might gain it through a union.

c) Workers would never be able to fight large corporations.

a) unions must work within the existing government structure.

b) workers must take control and establish a socialist state.

c) the Republican party offered the best solutions for American workers' problems.

a) alcoholism as a sin and poverty as the result of drink.

b) the use of education and persuasion in an effort to ban the sale of alcohol.

c) social action, labor conditions, and women's voting rights.

a) The plan to shut the plant's doors and arm nonunion workers

b) The call for strikebreakers to fire on the striking workers

a) General William Shafter

a) He believed expansionism only distracted the nation from problems at home.

b) He predicted that acquisitions would lead to wars with England, Japan, and Germany.

c) He believed the federal government lacked the strength to properly conquer foreign nations.

a) revolution in South America was inevitable without U.S. intervention.

b) the Monroe Doctrine was all but useless without American military might.

c) the United States would go to great lengths to avoid military conflict with Great Britain.

a) Japanese and British businesses.

a) was fundamentally a traditionalist response to hard times.

b) called for the reorganization of the U.S. government along Communist principles.

c) called for less government intervention in the United States.

a) gave Cuba total independence.

b) made it Cuba's responsibility to establish a democracy.

c) gave the United States the power to oversee Cuban debt.

a) He reversed his opinion mid-campaign to support retention of the gold standard.

b) His campaign strategies led him to win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College vote.

c) He set a new style for presidential campaigning by traveling and speaking widely.

a) The courts issued an injunction leading to the imprisonment of Eugene Debs.

b) Eugene Debs decided to demonstrate his power by capitulating to management.

c) George Pullman announced his willingness to negotiate with the American Railway Union.

a) Congress did not adequately support the war effort.

b) A majority of people in the United States at the time opposed imperialism.

c) U.S. business interests saw no reason to develop markets in that part of the world.

c) revolutionary rabble-rousers.

a) Family farming, homesteading, and agribusiness

b) Sharecropping and tenant farming

c) Banking, railroading, and speculation

a) Americans criticized government spending.

b) Most elected officials rejected laissez-faire politics.

c) The federal government offered generous aid to the unemployed.

a) The Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers tried to renew its contract.

b) Workers demanded higher wages, shorter days, sick pay, and safer working conditions.

c) Henry Clay Frick fired several workers for refusing to adopt the company's new ten-hour workday.

a) Loyal Republicans and Democrats

b) Factory managers, bankers, and civil engineers

c) Third-party dissidents with ties to anarchists

a) government ownership of railroads and telegraph lines.

b) a march on Washington to promote agricultural freedom and democracy.

c) continuation of the gold standard to tighten the money supply and limit credit.

a) Miners were displeased with the outcome of Colorado's gubernatorial election in 1892.

b) Miners organized to demand higher wages.

c) Owners attempted to lengthen the workday from eight to ten hours.

a) It was very similar to Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism.

b) It was based on the notion that centralized government was the most effective means of broadening democracy.

c) It incorporated his belief in limited government, states' rights, and open markets.

a) Du Bois lobbied for militant protest while Washington argued for nonviolent protest

b) Washington focused on education and economic progress, while Du Bois emphasized civil rights and black leadership.

c) Washington focused on civil rights and black leadership, while Du Bois emphasized education and economic progress.

b) the Spanish-American War.

c) the Panamanian uprising against Colombia.

a) Experts have the skills and knowledge to use scientific methods to improve society.

b) The American president must lead the way for social reform.

c) Humans should leave progress to the dictates of natural selection.

a) relaxed the doctrine's restrictions on European nations.

b) set up the United States as the police power in the Western Hemisphere.

c) guaranteed that the United States never had to send troops to Latin American nations.

a) That men and women liberate themselves from the barbarism of private ownership and wage slavery

b) The creation of one big union of unskilled workers to create social change

c) Communism as the only way to save America

a) The government was virtually powerless to withstand lobbyists and other powerful business interests.

b) Government officials were willing to make deals with big business to maintain economic stability.

c) Roosevelt's administration would act independently of big business.

a) Its visibility continued only in relation to the area of conservation.

b) Progressives focused on expanding the role of the federal government.

c) It continued in areas such as mine and railroad safety and workday limitations.

a) Break up as many as possible

b) Allow them to continue but with federal government regulation

c) Allow them to continue and to operate as they chose

a) Taft believed it was up to the courts, not the president, to arbitrate social issues.

b) Taft completely ignored the tariff issue, which was the hallmark of the Roosevelt administration.

Tenements and Overcrowding

As the United States industrialized in the nineteenth century, immigrants and workers from the countryside were housed in tenements.

Learning Objectives

Assess the hazards of tenement living in the late nineteenth century

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Among the problems new city dwellers faced were the dangers of tenement living, as buildings were often overcrowded and filthy, and had limited access to clean water.
  • Because tenement houses were so overcrowded, fire safety was a constant concern.
  • Jacob Riis ‘s book, How the Other Half Lives, was a key step in raising public awareness about the poor living conditions in tenements.
  • The Tenement House Act of 1901 required a number of reforms to make tenements safer and cleaner.

Key Terms

  • Jacob Riis: A Danish American social reformer, “muckraking” journalist, and social documentary photographer known for using his photographic and journalistic talents to help the impoverished in New York City. He endorsed the implementation of “model tenements” in New York with the help of humanitarian Lawrence Veiller.
  • Tenement House Act of 1901: A reform of the Progressive Era, this 1901 New York State law was one of the first such laws to ban the construction of dark, poorly ventilated tenement buildings in the state of New York. Among other sanctions, the law required that new buildings must be built with outward-facing windows in every room, an open courtyard, indoor toilets, and fire safeguards.
  • immigrant: A person who comes to a country from another country in order to permanently settle in the new country.
  • settlement houses: Group houses in which volunteer middle-class “settlement workers” would live, hoping to share knowledge and culture with, and alleviate the poverty of, their low-income neighbors.

U.S. Tenement Housing in the 1800s and early 1900s

As the United States became more industrialized during the 1800s, immigrants and workers from the countryside increasingly lived in former middle-class houses and other buildings such as warehouses, which were bought and divided into small dwellings. Additionally, beginning as early as the 1830s on the Lower East Side in New York City, people lived in jerry-built three- and four-floor “railroad flats” (so called because the rooms were linked together like a train) with windowless internal rooms. The adapted buildings also were known as “rookeries,” and were particularly concerning as they were prone to collapse and fire. Mulberry Bend and Five Points were the sites of notorious rookeries that the city worked for decades to clear. In both rookeries and purpose-built tenements, communal water taps and water closets (either privies or “school sinks,” which opened into a vault that often became clogged) were squeezed into what open space there was between buildings. In parts of the Lower East Side, buildings were older and had courtyards, which were generally occupied by machine shops, stables, and other businesses.

Such tenements (or “walk-ups”) were particularly prevalent in New York, where in 1865, a report stated that 500,000 people lived in unhealthy tenements, whereas in Boston in 1845, fewer than a quarter of workers were housed in tenements. One reason New York had so many tenements was the large numbers of immigrants another was that the grid pattern on which streets were laid out and the economic practice of building on individual 25-by-100-foot lots combined to produce extremely high land coverage, including back building.

How the Other Half Lives

A photo by Jacob Riis: Lodgers in a Bayard Street tenement.

How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York (1890) was an early publication of photojournalism by Jacob Riis, documenting squalid living conditions in New York City slums in the 1880s. It served as a basis for future “muckraking” journalism by exposing the slums to New York City’s upper and middle classes. Immediately after publication, this work inspired many reforms of working-class housing, and it continues to make a lasting impact in today’s society.

In January of 1888, Jacob Riis bought a detective camera and went on an expedition to gather images of what life was like in the slums of New York City. This not only involved Riis taking his own photos but also his using the images of other photographers. On January 28, 1888, Riis presented “The Other Half: How It Lives and Dies in New York” using his images on a projection screen and taking the viewer on a journey by describing the images. In February 1889, Riis wrote a magazine article based on his lectures in Scribner’s Magazine, which was a resounding success. The book version of Riis’ work was finally published in January 1890 as How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York.

The following is an example of Riis’s description of the New York City tenements:

The “Old Law”

The Tenement House Act of 1867, the state legislature ‘s first comprehensive legislation on housing conditions, prohibited cellar apartments unless the ceiling was one foot above street level required one water closet per 20 residents required fire escapes and began to delineate space between buildings. The Tenement House Act of 1867 was amended by the Tenement House Act of 1879, also known as the “Old Law,” which required lot coverage of no more than 65 percent. The New York City Board of Health declined to enforce the regulations, and as a compromise, the “Old Law” tenement became the standard. It had a “dumbbell” shape, with air and light shafts on either side of the center, usually fitted to the shafts in the adjacent buildings, and typically covered 80 percent of the lot. James Ware is credited with the design he had won a contest the previous year held by “Plumber and Sanitary Engineer” magazine to find the most practical yet profitable improved tenement design.

The “New Law”

The 1890 publication of Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives stirred public concern about New York tenements. The New York State Assembly Tenement House Committee report of 1894 surveyed 8,000 buildings with approximately 255,000 residents and found New York to be the most densely populated city in the world, at an average of 143 people per acre, with part of the Lower East Side having 800 residents per acre, an area denser than Bombay. The committee used both charts and photographs in their report (it was the first official use of such photographs). Together with the U.S. Department of Labor, the committee published The Housing of Working People in 1895 , a special report on housing conditions and solutions elsewhere in the world. This publication ultimately led to the passage of the Tenement House Act of 1901. Known as the “New Law,” this law implemented the Tenement House Committee’s recommendation of a maximum of 70 percent lot coverage (with strict enforcement) specified a minimum of 12 feet for a rear yard required six feet for an air and light shaft at the lot line or 12 feet in the middle of the building (these numbers increased for taller buildings) required running water and water closets in every apartment required a window in every room and instituted fire-safety regulations. These rules are still used today as the basis for New York City law on low-rise buildings.

Settlement Houses

In some cities, social reformers built “settlement houses” in poor urban areas, in which volunteer middle-class “settlement workers” would live, hoping to share knowledge and culture with, and alleviate the poverty of, their low-income neighbors. The settlement houses provided services such as daycare, education, and healthcare to improve the lives of the poor in these areas. The most famous settlement house in the United States is Chicago’s Hull House, founded by Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr in 1889 after Addams visited Toynbee Hall within the previous two years. Hull House became, at its inception in 1889, “a community of university women,” whose main purpose was to provide social and educational opportunities for working-class people (many of them recent European immigrants) in the surrounding neighborhood. The “residents” (volunteers at Hull were given this title) held classes in literature, history, art, domestic activities (such as sewing), and many other subjects. Hull House also held concerts that were free to everyone, offered free lectures on current issues, and operated clubs for both children and adults.


New York’s Flatiron Building: The iconic Flatiron Building, New York, shortly after its construction in 1903.

Not all new urban architecture revolved around lower-class housing. Louis Sullivan became a noted architect for using steel frames to construct skyscrapers for the first time while pioneering the idea of “form follows function.” One of his earliest works was the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, Missouri. Elisha Otis’s introduction of safety measures on elevators also helped buildings reach newer heights.

Early on, Chicago led the way in skyscraper design, with many constructed in the center of the financial district during the late 1880s and early 1890s. Sometimes termed the products of the Chicago school of architecture, these skyscrapers— large, square palazzo-styled buildings hosting shops and restaurants on the ground level and containing rentable offices on the upper floors—attempted to balance aesthetic concerns with practical commercial design. In contrast, New York’s skyscrapers were frequently narrower towers which, more eclectic in style, were often criticized for their lack of elegance. In 1892, Chicago banned the construction of new skyscrapers taller than 150 feet (46 m), leaving the development of taller buildings to New York.


The Empire State Building is located on the west side of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, between 33rd Street to the south and 34th Street to the north. [14] Tenants enter the building through the Art Deco lobby located at 350 Fifth Avenue. Visitors to the observatories use an entrance at 20 West 34th Street prior to August 2018, visitors entered through the Fifth Avenue lobby. [1] Although physically located in South Midtown, [15] a mixed residential and commercial area, [16] the building is so large that it was assigned its own ZIP Code, 10118 [17] [18] as of 2012 [update] , it is one of 43 buildings in New York City that have their own ZIP codes. [19] [b]

The areas surrounding the Empire State Building are home to other major points of interest, including Macy's at Herald Square on Sixth Avenue and 34th Street, [22] Koreatown on 32nd Street between Madison and Sixth Avenues, [22] [23] Penn Station and Madison Square Garden on Seventh Avenue between 32nd and 34th Streets, [22] and the Flower District on 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. [24] The nearest New York City Subway stations are 34th Street–Penn Station at Seventh Avenue, two blocks west 34th Street–Herald Square, one block west and 33rd Street at Park Avenue, two blocks east. [d] There is also a PATH station at 33rd Street and Sixth Avenue. [25]

To the east of the Empire State Building is Murray Hill, [25] a neighborhood with a mix of residential, commercial, and entertainment activity. [26] The block directly to the northeast contains the B. Altman and Company Building, which houses the City University of New York's Graduate Center, while the Demarest Building is directly across Fifth Avenue to the east. [27]

The site was previously owned by John Jacob Astor of the prominent Astor family, who had owned the site since the mid-1820s. [28] [29] In 1893, John Jacob Astor Sr.'s grandson William Waldorf Astor opened the Waldorf Hotel on the site [30] [31] four years later, his cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, opened the 16-story Astoria Hotel on an adjacent site. [32] [30] [33] The two portions of the Waldorf–Astoria hotel had 1,300 bedrooms, making it the largest hotel in the world at the time. [34] After the death of its founding proprietor, George Boldt, in early 1918, the hotel lease was purchased by Thomas Coleman du Pont. [35] [36] By the 1920s, the old Waldorf–Astoria was becoming dated and the elegant social life of New York had moved much farther north than 34th Street. [37] [38] [39] The Astor family decided to build a replacement hotel further uptown, [30] and sold the hotel to Bethlehem Engineering Corporation in 1928 for $14–16 million. [37] The hotel closed shortly thereafter, on May 3, 1929. [32]

Planning process

Early plans

Bethlehem Engineering Corporation originally intended to build a 25-story office building on the Waldorf–Astoria site. The company's president, Floyd De L. Brown, paid $100,000 of the $1 million down payment required to start construction on the building, with the promise that the difference would be paid later. [30] Brown borrowed $900,000 from a bank, but then defaulted on the loan. [40] [41] After Brown was unable to secure additional funding, [38] the land was resold to Empire State Inc., a group of wealthy investors that included Louis G. Kaufman, Ellis P. Earle, John J. Raskob, Coleman du Pont, and Pierre S. du Pont. [40] [41] [42] The name came from the state nickname for New York. [43] Alfred E. Smith, a former Governor of New York and U.S. presidential candidate whose 1928 campaign had been managed by Raskob, [44] was appointed head of the company. [38] [40] [41] The group also purchased nearby land so they would have the 2 acres (1 ha) needed for the base, with the combined plot measuring 425 feet (130 m) wide by 200 feet (61 m) long. [45]

The Empire State Inc. consortium was announced to the public in August 1929. [46] [47] [45] Concurrently, Smith announced the construction of an 80-story building on the site, to be taller than any other buildings in existence. [45] [48] Empire State Inc. contracted William F. Lamb, of architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, to create the building design. [2] [49] Lamb produced the building drawings in just two weeks using the firm's earlier designs for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina as the basis. [43] Concurrently, Lamb's partner Richmond Shreve created "bug diagrams" of the project requirements. [50] The 1916 Zoning Act forced Lamb to design a structure that incorporated setbacks resulting in the lower floors being larger than the upper floors. [e] Consequently, the building was designed from the top down, [51] giving it a "pencil"-like shape. [52] The plans were devised within a budget of $50 million and a stipulation that the building be ready for occupancy within 18 months of the start of construction. [38]

Design changes

The original plan of the building was 50 stories, [53] but was later increased to 60 and then 80 stories. [45] Height restrictions were placed on nearby buildings [45] to ensure that the top fifty floors of the planned 80-story, 1,000-foot-tall (300 m) building [54] [55] would have unobstructed views of the city. [45] The New York Times lauded the site's proximity to mass transit, with the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit's 34th Street station and the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad's 33rd Street terminal one block away, as well as Penn Station two blocks away and the Grand Central Terminal nine blocks away at its closest. It also praised the 3,000,000 square feet (280,000 m 2 ) of proposed floor space near "one of the busiest sections in the world". [45]

While plans for the Empire State Building were being finalized, an intense competition in New York for the title of "world's tallest building" was underway. 40 Wall Street (then the Bank of Manhattan Building) and the Chrysler Building in Manhattan both vied for this distinction and were already under construction when work began on the Empire State Building. [54] The "Race into the Sky", as popular media called it at the time, was representative of the country's optimism in the 1920s, fueled by the building boom in major cities. [56] The race was defined by at least five other proposals, although only the Empire State Building would survive the Wall Street Crash of 1929. [38] [f] The 40 Wall Street tower was revised, in April 1929, from 840 feet (260 m) to 925 feet (282 m) making it the world's tallest. [58] The Chrysler Building added its 185-foot (56 m) steel tip to its roof in October 1929, thus bringing it to a height of 1,046 feet (319 m) and greatly exceeding the height of 40 Wall Street. [54] The Chrysler Building's developer, Walter Chrysler, realized that his tower's height would exceed the Empire State Building's as well, having instructed his architect, William Van Alen, to change the Chrysler's original roof from a stubby Romanesque dome to a narrow steel spire. [58] Raskob, wishing to have the Empire State Building be the world's tallest, reviewed the plans and had five floors added as well as a spire however, the new floors would need to be set back because of projected wind pressure on the extension. [59] On November 18, 1929, Smith acquired a lot at 27–31 West 33rd Street, adding 75 feet (23 m) to the width of the proposed office building's site. [60] [61] Two days later, Smith announced the updated plans for the skyscraper. The plans included an observation deck on the 86th-floor roof at a height of 1,050 feet (320 m), higher than the Chrysler's 71st-floor observation deck. [59] [62]

The 1,050-foot Empire State Building would only be 4 feet (1.2 m) taller than the Chrysler Building, [59] [63] [64] and Raskob was afraid that Chrysler might try to "pull a trick like hiding a rod in the spire and then sticking it up at the last minute." [53] [65] [63] The plans were revised one last time in December 1929, to include a 16-story, 200-foot (61 m) metal "crown" and an additional 222-foot (68 m) mooring mast intended for dirigibles. The roof height was now 1,250 feet (380 m), making it the tallest building in the world by far, even without the antenna. [66] [53] [67] The addition of the dirigible station meant that another floor, the now-enclosed 86th floor, would have to be built below the crown [67] however, unlike the Chrysler's spire, the Empire State's mast would serve a practical purpose. [65] A revised plan was announced to the public in late December 1929, just before the start of construction. [38] [39] The final plan was sketched within two hours, the night before the plan was supposed to be presented to the site's owners in January 1930. [38] The New York Times reported that the spire was facing some "technical problems", but they were "no greater than might be expected under such a novel plan." [68] By this time the blueprints for the building had gone through up to fifteen versions before they were approved. [53] [69] [70] Lamb described the other specifications he was given for the final, approved plan:

The program was short enough—a fixed budget, no space more than 28 feet from window to corridor, as many stories of such space as possible, an exterior of limestone, and completion date of [May 1], 1931, which meant a year and six months from the beginning of sketches. [71] [53]

The contractors were Starrett Brothers and Eken, Paul and William A. Starrett and Andrew J. Eken, [72] who would later construct other New York City buildings such as Stuyvesant Town, Starrett City and Trump Tower. [73] The project was financed primarily by Raskob and Pierre du Pont, [74] while James Farley's General Builders Supply Corporation supplied the building materials. [2] John W. Bowser was the construction superintendent of the project, [75] and the structural engineer of the building was Homer G. Balcom. [49] [76] The tight completion schedule necessitated the commencement of construction even though the design had yet to be finalized. [77]


Hotel demolition

Demolition of the old Waldorf–Astoria began on October 1, 1929. [78] Stripping the building down was an arduous process, as the hotel had been constructed using more rigid material than earlier buildings had been. Furthermore, the old hotel's granite, wood chips, and "'precious' metals such as lead, brass, and zinc" were not in high demand resulting in issues with disposal. [79] Most of the wood was deposited into a woodpile on nearby 30th Street or was burned in a swamp elsewhere. Much of the other materials that made up the old hotel, including the granite and bronze, were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean near Sandy Hook, New Jersey. [80] [81]

By the time the hotel's demolition started, Raskob had secured the required funding for the construction of the building. [82] The plan was to start construction later that year but, on October 24, the New York Stock Exchange experienced the major and sudden Wall Street Crash, marking the beginning of the decade-long Great Depression. Despite the economic downturn, Raskob refused to cancel the project because of the progress that had been made up to that point. [46] Neither Raskob, who had ceased speculation in the stock market the previous year, nor Smith, who had no stock investments, suffered financially in the crash. [82] However, most of the investors were affected and as a result, in December 1929, Empire State Inc. obtained a $27.5 million loan from Metropolitan Life Insurance Company so construction could begin. [83] The stock market crash resulted in no demand in new office space, Raskob and Smith nonetheless started construction, [84] as canceling the project would have resulted in greater losses for the investors. [46]

Steel structure

A structural steel contract was awarded on January 12, 1930, [85] with excavation of the site beginning ten days later on January 22, [86] before the old hotel had been completely demolished. [87] Two twelve-hour shifts, consisting of 300 men each, worked continuously to dig the 55-foot (17 m) foundation. [86] Small pier holes were sunk into the ground to house the concrete footings that would support the steelwork. [88] Excavation was nearly complete by early March, [89] and construction on the building itself started on March 17, [90] [2] with the builders placing the first steel columns on the completed footings before the rest of the footings had been finished. [91] Around this time, Lamb held a press conference on the building plans. He described the reflective steel panels parallel to the windows, the large-block Indiana Limestone facade that was slightly more expensive than smaller bricks, and the building's vertical lines. [66] Four colossal columns, intended for installation in the center of the building site, were delivered they would support a combined 10,000,000 pounds (4,500,000 kg) when the building was finished. [92]

The structural steel was pre-ordered and pre-fabricated in anticipation of a revision to the city's building code that would have allowed the Empire State Building's structural steel to carry 18,000 pounds per square inch (120,000 kPa), up from 16,000 pounds per square inch (110,000 kPa), thus reducing the amount of steel needed for the building. Although the 18,000-psi regulation had been safely enacted in other cities, Mayor Jimmy Walker did not sign the new codes into law until March 26, 1930, just before construction was due to commence. [90] [93] The first steel framework was installed on April 1, 1930. [94] From there, construction proceeded at a rapid pace during one stretch of 10 working days, the builders erected fourteen floors. [95] [2] This was made possible through precise coordination of the building's planning, as well as the mass production of common materials such as windows and spandrels. [96] On one occasion, when a supplier could not provide timely delivery of dark Hauteville marble, Starrett switched to using Rose Famosa marble from a German quarry that was purchased specifically to provide the project with sufficient marble. [88]

The scale of the project was massive, with trucks carrying "16,000 partition tiles, 5,000 bags of cement, 450 cubic yards [340 m 3 ] of sand and 300 bags of lime" arriving at the construction site every day. [97] There were also cafes and concession stands on five of the incomplete floors so workers did not have to descend to the ground level to eat lunch. [3] [98] Temporary water taps were also built so workers did not waste time buying water bottles from the ground level. [3] [99] Additionally, carts running on a small railway system transported materials from the basement storage [3] to elevators that brought the carts to the desired floors where they would then be distributed throughout that level using another set of tracks. [97] [100] [98] The 57,480 short tons (51,320 long tons) of steel ordered for the project was the largest-ever single order of steel at the time, comprising more steel than was ordered for the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street combined. [101] [102] According to historian John Tauranac, building materials were sourced from numerous, and distant, sources with "limestone from Indiana, steel girders from Pittsburgh, cement and mortar from upper New York State, marble from Italy, France, and England, wood from northern and Pacific Coast forests, [and] hardware from New England." [95] The facade, too, used a variety of material, most prominently Indiana limestone but also Swedish black granite, terracotta, and brick. [103]

Completion and scale

Afterward, work on the building's interior and crowning mast commenced. [109] The mooring mast topped out on November 21, two months after the steelwork had been completed. [107] [110] Meanwhile, work on the walls and interior was progressing at a quick pace, with exterior walls built up to the 75th floor by the time steelwork had been built to the 95th floor. [111] The majority of the facade was already finished by the middle of November. [3] Because of the building's height, it was deemed infeasible to have many elevators or large elevator cabins, so the builders contracted with the Otis Elevator Company to make 66 cars that could speed at 1,200 feet per minute (366 m/min), which represented the largest-ever elevator order at the time. [112]

In addition to the time constraint builders had, there were also space limitations because construction materials had to be delivered quickly, and trucks needed to drop off these materials without congesting traffic. This was solved by creating a temporary driveway for the trucks between 33rd and 34th Streets, and then storing the materials in the building's first floor and basements. Concrete mixers, brick hoppers, and stone hoists inside the building ensured that materials would be able to ascend quickly and without endangering or inconveniencing the public. [111] At one point, over 200 trucks made material deliveries at the building site every day. [3] A series of relay and erection derricks, placed on platforms erected near the building, lifted the steel from the trucks below and installed the beams at the appropriate locations. [113] The Empire State Building was structurally completed on April 11, 1931, twelve days ahead of schedule and 410 days after construction commenced. [3] Al Smith shot the final rivet, which was made of solid gold. [114]

The project involved more than 3,500 workers at its peak, [2] including 3,439 on a single day, August 14, 1930. [115] Many of the workers were Irish and Italian immigrants, [116] with a sizable minority of Mohawk ironworkers from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal. [116] [117] [118] According to official accounts, five workers died during the construction, [119] [120] although the New York Daily News gave reports of 14 deaths [3] and a headline in the socialist magazine The New Masses spread unfounded rumors of up to 42 deaths. [121] [120] The Empire State Building cost $40,948,900 to build, including demolition of the Waldorf–Astoria (equivalent to $564,491,900 in 2019). This was lower than the $60 million budgeted for construction. [5]

Lewis Hine captured many photographs of the construction, documenting not only the work itself but also providing insight into the daily life of workers in that era. [86] [122] [123] Hine's images were used extensively by the media to publish daily press releases. [124] According to the writer Jim Rasenberger, Hine "climbed out onto the steel with the ironworkers and dangled from a derrick cable hundreds of feet above the city to capture, as no one ever had before (or has since), the dizzy work of building skyscrapers". In Rasenberger's words, Hine turned what might have been an assignment of "corporate flak" into "exhilarating art". [125] These images were later organized into their own collection. [126] Onlookers were enraptured by the sheer height at which the steelworkers operated. New York magazine wrote of the steelworkers: "Like little spiders they toiled, spinning a fabric of steel against the sky". [113]

Opening and early years

The Empire State Building officially opened on May 1, 1931, forty-five days ahead of its projected opening date, and eighteen months from the start of construction. [127] [2] [128] The opening was marked with an event featuring United States President Herbert Hoover, who turned on the building's lights with the ceremonial button push from Washington, D.C.. [129] [130] [4] Over 350 guests attended the opening ceremony, and following luncheon, at the 86th floor including Jimmy Walker, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Al Smith. [4] An account from that day stated that the view from the luncheon was obscured by a fog, with other landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty being "lost in the mist" enveloping New York City. [131] The Empire State Building officially opened the next day. [131] [75] Advertisements for the building's observatories were placed in local newspapers, while nearby hotels also capitalized on the events by releasing advertisements that lauded their proximity to the newly opened building. [132]

According to The New York Times, builders and real estate speculators predicted that the 1,250-foot-tall (380 m) Empire State Building would be the world's tallest building "for many years", thus ending the great New York City skyscraper rivalry. At the time, most engineers agreed that it would be difficult to build a building taller than 1,200 feet (370 m), even with the hardy Manhattan bedrock as a foundation. [133] Technically, it was believed possible to build a tower of up to 2,000 feet (610 m), but it was deemed uneconomical to do so, especially during the Great Depression. [100] [134] As the tallest building in the world, at that time, and the first one to exceed 100 floors, the Empire State Building became an icon of the city and, ultimately, of the nation. [135]

In 1932, the Fifth Avenue Association gave the building its 1931 "gold medal" for architectural excellence, signifying that the Empire State had been the best-designed building on Fifth Avenue to open in 1931. [136] A year later, on March 2, 1933, the movie King Kong was released. The movie, which depicted a large stop motion ape named Kong climbing the Empire State Building, made the still-new building into a cinematic icon. [137] [138]

Tenants and tourism

The Empire State Building's opening coincided with the Great Depression in the United States, and as a result much of its office space was vacant from its opening. [126] In the first year, only 23% of the available space was rented, [139] [140] as compared to the early 1920s, where the average building would have occupancy of 52% upon opening and 90% rented within five years. [141] The lack of renters led New Yorkers to deride the building as the "Empty State Building. [126] [142] or "Smith's Folly". [143]

The earliest tenants in the Empire State Building were large companies, banks, and garment industries. [143] Jack Brod, one of the building's longest resident tenants, [144] [145] co-established the Empire Diamond Corporation with his father in the building in mid-1931 [146] and rented space in the building until he died in 2008. [146] Brod recalled that there were only about 20 tenants at the time of opening, including him, [145] and that Al Smith was the only real tenant in the space above his seventh-floor offices. [144] Generally, during the early 1930s, it was rare for more than a single office space to be rented in the building, despite Smith's and Raskob's aggressive marketing efforts in the newspapers and to anyone they knew. [147] The building's lights were continuously left on, even in the unrented spaces, to give the impression of occupancy. This was exacerbated by competition from Rockefeller Center [139] as well as from buildings on 42nd Street, which, when combined with the Empire State Building, resulted in surplus of office space in a slow market during the 1930s. [148]

Aggressive marketing efforts served to reinforce the Empire State Building's status as the world's tallest. [149] The observatory was advertised in local newspapers as well as on railroad tickets. [150] The building became a popular tourist attraction, with one million people each paying one dollar to ride elevators to the observation decks in 1931. [151] In its first year of operation, the observation deck made approximately $2 million in revenue, as much as its owners made in rent that year. [139] [126] By 1936, the observation deck was crowded on a daily basis, with food and drink available for purchase at the top, [152] and by 1944 the building had received its five-millionth visitor. [153] In 1931, NBC took up tenancy, leasing space on the 85th floor for radio broadcasts. [154] [155] From the outset the building was in debt, losing $1 million per year by 1935. Real estate developer Seymour Durst recalled that the building was so underused in 1936 that there was no elevator service above the 45th floor, as the building above the 41st floor was empty except for the NBC offices and the Raskob/Du Pont offices on the 81st floor. [156]

Other events

Per the original plans, the Empire State Building's spire was intended to be an airship docking station. Raskob and Smith had proposed dirigible ticketing offices and passenger waiting rooms on the 86th floor, while the airships themselves would be tied to the spire at the equivalent of the building's 106th floor. [157] [158] An elevator would ferry passengers from the 86th to the 101st floor [g] after they had checked in on the 86th floor, [160] after which passengers would have climbed steep ladders to board the airship. [157] The idea, however, was impractical and dangerous due to powerful updrafts caused by the building itself, [161] the wind currents across Manhattan, [157] and the spires of nearby skyscrapers. [162] Furthermore, even if the airship were to successfully navigate all these obstacles, its crew would have to jettison some ballast by releasing water onto the streets below in order to maintain stability, and then tie the craft's nose to the spire with no mooring lines securing the tail end of the craft. [13] [157] [162] On September 15, 1931, a small commercial United States Navy airship circled 25 times in 45-mile-per-hour (72 km/h) winds. [163] The airship then attempted to dock at the mast, but its ballast spilled and the craft was rocked by unpredictable eddies. [164] [165] The near-disaster scuttled plans to turn the building's spire into an airship terminal, although one blimp did manage to make a single newspaper delivery afterward. [38] [157]

On July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 79th and 80th floors. [166] One engine completely penetrated the building and landed in a neighboring block, while the other engine and part of the landing gear plummeted down an elevator shaft. Fourteen people were killed in the incident, [167] [70] but the building escaped severe damage and was reopened two days later. [167] [168]


The Empire State Building only started becoming profitable in the 1950s, when it was finally able to break even for the first time. [126] [169] At the time, mass transit options in the building's vicinity were limited compared to the present day. Despite this challenge, the Empire State Building began to attract renters due to its reputation. [170] A 222-foot (68 m) radio antenna was erected on top of the towers starting in 1950, [171] allowing the area's television stations to be broadcast from the building. [172]

However, despite the turnaround in the building's fortunes, Raskob listed it for sale in 1951, [173] with a minimum asking price of $50 million. [174] The property was purchased by business partners Roger L. Stevens, Henry Crown, Alfred R. Glancy and Ben Tobin. [175] [176] [177] The sale was brokered by the Charles F. Noyes Company, a prominent real estate firm in upper Manhattan, [174] for $51 million, the highest price paid for a single structure at the time. [178] By this time, the Empire State had been fully leased for several years with a waiting list of parties looking to lease space in the building, according to the Cortland Standard. [179] That same year, six news companies formed a partnership to pay a combined annual fee of $600,000 to use the building's antenna, [174] which was completed in 1953. [172] Crown bought out his partners' ownership stakes in 1954, becoming the sole owner. [180] The following year, the American Society of Civil Engineers named the building one of the "Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders". [181] [182]

In 1961, Lawrence A. Wien signed a contract to purchase the Empire State Building for $65 million, with Harry B. Helmsley acting as partners in the building's operating lease. [175] [183] This became the new highest price for a single structure. [183] Over 3,000 people paid $10,000 for one share each in a company called Empire State Building Associates. The company in turn subleased the building to another company headed by Helmsley and Wien, raising $33 million of the funds needed to pay the purchase price. [175] [183] In a separate transaction, [183] the land underneath the building was sold to Prudential Insurance for $29 million. [175] [184] Helmsley, Wien, and Peter Malkin quickly started a program of minor improvement projects, including the first-ever full-building facade refurbishment and window-washing in 1962, [185] [186] the installation of new flood lights on the 72nd floor in 1964, [187] [188] and replacement of the manually operated elevators with automatic units in 1966. [189] The little-used western end of the second floor was used as a storage space until 1964, at which point it received escalators to the first floor as part of its conversion into a highly sought retail area. [190] [191]

Loss of "tallest building" title

In 1961, the same year that Helmsley, Wien, and Malkin had purchased the Empire State Building, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey formally backed plans for a new World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. [194] The plan originally included 66-story twin towers with column-free open spaces. The Empire State's owners and real estate speculators were worried that the twin towers' 7.6 million square feet (710,000 m 2 ) of office space would create a glut of rentable space in Manhattan as well as take away the Empire State Building's profits from lessees. [195] A revision in the World Trade Center's plan brought the twin towers to 1,370 feet (420 m) each or 110 stories, taller than the Empire State. [196] Opponents of the new project included prominent real-estate developer Robert Tishman, as well as Wien's Committee for a Reasonable World Trade Center. [196] In response to Wien's opposition, Port Authority executive director Austin J. Tobin said that Wien was only opposing the project because it would overshadow his Empire State Building as the world's tallest building. [197]

The World Trade Center's twin towers started construction in 1966. [198] The following year, the Ostankino Tower succeeded the Empire State Building as the tallest freestanding structure in the world. [199] In 1970, the Empire State surrendered its position as the world's tallest building, [200] when the World Trade Center's still-under-construction North Tower surpassed it, on October 19 [192] [193] the North Tower was topped out, on December 23, 1970. [193] [201]

In December 1975, the observation deck was opened on the 110th floor of the Twin Towers, significantly higher than the 86th floor observatory on the Empire State Building. [70] The latter was also losing revenue during this period, particularly as a number of broadcast stations had moved to the World Trade Center in 1971 although the Port Authority continued to pay the broadcasting leases for the Empire State until 1984. [202] The Empire State Building was still seen as prestigious, having seen its forty-millionth visitor in March 1971. [203]

1980s and 1990s

By 1980, there were nearly two million annual visitors, [151] although a building official had previously estimated between 1.5 million and 1.75 million annual visitors. [204] The building received its own ZIP code in May 1980 in a roll out of 63 new postal codes in Manhattan. At the time, its tenants collectively received 35,000 pieces of mail daily. [21] The Empire State Building celebrated its 50th anniversary on May 1, 1981, with a much-publicized, but poorly received, laser light show, [205] as well as an "Empire State Building Week" that ran through to May 8. [206] [207]

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to make the lobby a city landmark on May 19, 1981, citing the historic nature of the first and second floors, as well as "the fixtures and interior components" of the upper floors. [208] The building became a National Historic Landmark in 1986 [10] in close alignment to the New York City Landmarks report. [209] The Empire State Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places the following year due to its architectural significance. [210]

Capital improvements were made to the Empire State Building during the early to mid-1990s at a cost of $55 million. [211] These improvements entailed replacing alarm systems, elevators, windows, and air conditioning making the observation deck compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and refurbishing the limestone facade. [212] The observatory renovation was added after disability rights groups and the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the building in 1992, in what was the first lawsuit filed by an organization under the new law. [213] A settlement was reached in 1994, in which the Empire State Building Associates agreed to add ADA-compliant elements, such as new elevators, ramps, and automatic doors, during its ongoing renovation. [214]

Prudential sold the land under the building in 1991 for $42 million to a buyer representing hotelier Hideki Yokoi [ja] , who was imprisoned at the time in connection with the deadly Hotel New Japan Fire [ja] at the Hotel New Japan [ja] in Tokyo. [215] In 1994, Donald Trump entered into a joint-venture agreement with Yokoi, with a shared goal of breaking the Empire State Building's lease on the land in an effort to gain total ownership of the building so that, if successful, the two could reap the potential profits of merging the ownership of the building with the land beneath it. [216] Having secured a half-ownership of the land, Trump devised plans to take ownership of the building itself so he could renovate it, even though Helmsley and Malkin had already started their refurbishment project. [211] He sued Empire State Building Associates in February 1995, claiming that the latter had caused the building to become a "high-rise slum" [175] and a "second-rate, rodent-infested" office tower. [217] Trump had intended to have Empire State Building Associates evicted for violating the terms of their lease, [217] but was denied. [218] This led to Helmsley's companies countersuing Trump in May. [219] This sparked a series of lawsuits and countersuits that lasted several years, [175] partly arising from Trump's desire to obtain the building's master lease by taking it from Empire State Building Associates. [212] Upon Harry Helmsley's death in 1997, the Malkins sued Helmsley's widow, Leona Helmsley, for control of the building. [220]

21st century


Following the destruction of the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Empire State Building again became the tallest building in New York City, but was only the second-tallest building in the Americas after the Sears (later Willis) Tower in Chicago. [199] [221] [222] As a result of the attacks, transmissions from nearly all of the city's commercial television and FM radio stations were again broadcast from the Empire State Building. [223] The attacks also led to an increase in security due to persistent terror threats against New York City landmarks. [224]

In 2002, Trump and Yokoi sold their land claim to the Empire State Building Associates, now headed by Malkin, in a $57.5 million sale. [175] [225] This action merged the building's title and lease for the first time in half a century. [225] Despite the lingering threat posed by the 9/11 attacks, the Empire State Building remained popular with 3.5 million visitors to the observatories in 2004, compared to about 2.8 million in 2003. [226]

Even though she maintained her ownership stake in the building until the post-consolidation IPO in October 2013, Leona Helmsley handed over day-to-day operations of the building in 2006 to Peter Malkin's company. [175] [227] In 2008, the building was temporarily "stolen" by the New York Daily News to show how easy it was to transfer the deed on a property, since city clerks were not required to validate the submitted information, as well as to help demonstrate how fraudulent deeds could be used to obtain large mortgages and then have individuals disappear with the money. The paperwork submitted to the city included the names of Fay Wray, the famous star of King Kong, and Willie Sutton, a notorious New York bank robber. The newspaper then transferred the deed back over to the legitimate owners, who at that time were Empire State Land Associates. [228]


Starting in 2009, the building's public areas received a $550 million renovation, with improvements to the air conditioning and waterproofing, renovations to the observation deck and main lobby, [229] and relocation of the gift shop to the 80th floor. [230] [231] About $120 million was spent on improving the energy efficiency of the building, with the goal of reducing energy emissions by 38% within five years. [231] [232] For example, all of the windows were refurbished onsite into film-coated "superwindows" which block heat but pass light. [232] [233] [234] Air conditioning operating costs on hot days were reduced, saving $17 million of the project's capital cost immediately and partially funding some of the other retrofits. [233] The Empire State Building won the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold for Existing Buildings rating in September 2011, as well as the World Federation of Great Towers' Excellence in Environment Award for 2010. [234] For the LEED Gold certification, the building's energy reduction was considered, as was a large purchase of carbon offsets. Other factors included low-flow bathroom fixtures, green cleaning supplies, and use of recycled paper products. [235]

On April 30, 2012, One World Trade Center topped out, taking the Empire State Building's record of tallest in the city. [236] By 2014, the building was owned by the Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT), with Anthony Malkin as chairman, CEO, and president. [237] The ESRT was a public company, having begun trading publicly on the New York Stock Exchange the previous year. [238] In August 2016, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) was issued new fully diluted shares equivalent to 9.9% of the trust this investment gave them partial ownership of the entirety of the ESRT's portfolio, and as a result, partial ownership of the Empire State Building. [239] The trust's president John Kessler called it an "endorsement of the company's irreplaceable assets". [240] The investment has been described by the real-estate magazine The Real Deal as "an unusual move for a sovereign wealth fund", as these funds typically buy direct stakes in buildings rather than real estate companies. [241] Other foreign entities that have a stake in the ESRT include investors from Norway, Japan, and Australia. [240]

A renovation of the Empire State Building was commenced in the 2010s to further improve energy efficiency, public areas, and amenities. [1] In August 2018, to improve the flow of visitor traffic, the main visitor's entrance was shifted to 20 West 34th Street as part of a major renovation of the observatory lobby. [242] The new lobby includes several technological features, including large LED panels, digital ticket kiosks in nine languages, and a two-story architectural model of the building surrounded by two metal staircases. [1] [242] The first phase of the renovation, completed in 2019, features an updated exterior lighting system and digital hosts. [242] The new lobby also features free Wi-Fi provided for those waiting. [1] [243] A 10,000-square-foot (930 m 2 ) exhibit with nine galleries, opened in July 2019. [244] [245] The 102nd floor observatory, the third phase of the redesign, re-opened to the public on October 12, 2019. [246] [247] That portion of the project included outfitting the space with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a brand-new glass elevator. [248] The final portion of the renovations to be completed was a new observatory on the 80th floor, which opened on December 2, 2019. In total, the renovation had cost $165 million and taken four years to finish. [249] [250]

The building has been named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. [252] The building and its street floor interior are designated landmarks of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and confirmed by the New York City Board of Estimate. [253] It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. [10] [209] [254] In 2007, it was first on the AIA's List of America's Favorite Architecture. [255]

The Empire State Building has a symmetrical massing, or shape, because of its large lot and relatively short base. The five-story base occupies the entire lot, while the 81-story tower above it is set back sharply from the base. [38] [68] [256] There are smaller setbacks on the upper stories, allowing sunlight to illuminate the interiors of the top floors, and positioning these floors away from the noisy streets below. [52] [257] The setbacks are located at the 21st, 25th, 30th, 72nd, 81st, and 85th stories. [258]

The setbacks were mandated as per the 1916 Zoning Resolution, which was intended to allow sunlight to reach the streets as well. [e] Normally, a building of the Empire State's dimensions would be permitted to build up to 12 stories on the Fifth Avenue side, and up to 17 stories on the 33rd/34th Streets side, before it would have to utilize setbacks. [68] However, with the largest setback being located above the base, the tower stories could contain a uniform shape. [264] [265] [53] According to architectural writer Robert A. M. Stern, the Empire State Building's form contrasted with the nearly contemporary, similarly designed 500 Fifth Avenue eight blocks north, which had an asymmetrical massing on a smaller lot. [38]


The Empire State Building's art deco design is typical of pre–World War II architecture in New York. [253] The facade is clad in Indiana limestone panels sourced from the Empire Mill in Sanders, Indiana, [266] which give the building its signature blonde color. [43] According to official fact sheets, the facade uses 200,000 cubic feet (5,700 m 3 ) of limestone and granite, ten million bricks, and 730 short tons (650 long tons) of aluminum and stainless steel. [267] The building also contains 6,514 windows. [268]

The main entrance, composed of three sets of metal doors, is at the center of the Fifth Avenue facade, flanked by molded piers that are topped with eagles. Above the main entrance is a transom, a triple-height transom window with geometric patterns, and the golden letters empire state above the fifth-floor windows. [256] [127] There are two entrances each on 33rd and 34th Streets, with modernistic, stainless steel canopies projecting from the entrances on 33rd and 34th Streets there. Above the secondary entrances are triple windows, less elaborate in design than those on Fifth Avenue. [253] [256] [127] The storefronts on the first floor contain aluminum-framed doors and windows within a black granite cladding. [256] [127] The second through fourth stories consist of windows alternating with wide stone piers and narrower stone mullions. The fifth story contains windows alternating with wide and narrow mullions, and is topped by a horizontal stone sill. [256]

The facade of the tower stories is split into several vertical bays on each side, with windows projecting slightly from the limestone cladding. The bays are arranged into sets of one, two, or three windows on each floor. [269] The windows in each bay are separated by vertical nickel-chrome steel mullions and connected by horizontal aluminum spandrels on each floor. [258] [127]

Structural features

The riveted steel frame of the building was originally designed to handle all of the building's gravitational stresses and wind loads. [270] The amount of material used in the building's construction resulted in a very stiff structure when compared to other skyscrapers, with a structural stiffness of 42 pounds per square foot (2.0 kPa) versus the Willis Tower's 33 pounds per square foot (1.6 kPa) and the John Hancock Center's 26 pounds per square foot (1.2 kPa). [271] A December 1930 feature in Popular Mechanics estimated that a building with the Empire State's dimensions would still stand even if hit with an impact of 50 short tons (45 long tons). [264]

Utilities are grouped in a central shaft. [68] On the 6th through 86th stories, the central shaft is surrounded by a main corridor on all four sides. [53] As per the final specifications of the building, the corridor is surrounded in turn by office space 28 feet (8.5 m) deep, maximizing office space at a time before air conditioning became commonplace. [272] [71] Each of the floors has 210 structural columns that pass through it, which provide structural stability, but limits the amount of open space on these floors. [53] However, the relative dearth of stone in the building allows for more space overall, with a 1:200 stone-to-building ratio in the Empire State compared to a 1:50 ratio in similar buildings. [100]


According to official fact sheets, the Empire State Building weighs 365,000 short tons (331,122 t) and has an internal volume of 37 million cubic feet (1,000,000 m 3 ). [267] The interior required 1,172 miles (1,886 km) of elevator cable and 2 million feet (609,600 m) of electrical wires. [273] The Empire State Building has a total floor area of 2,768,591 sq ft (257,211 m 2 ), and each of the floors in the base cover 2 acres (1 ha). [274] This gives the building capacity for 20,000 tenants and 15,000 visitors. [264]

The Empire State Building contains 73 elevators. [232] Its original 64 elevators, built by the Otis Elevator Company, [274] are located in a central core and are of varying heights, with the longest of these elevators reaching from the lobby to the 80th floor. [68] [275] As originally built, there were four "express" elevators that connected the lobby, 80th floor, and several landings in between the other 60 "local" elevators connected the landings with the floors above these intermediate landings. [265] Of the 64 total elevators, 58 were for passenger use (comprising the four express elevators and 54 local elevators), and eight were for freight deliveries. [53] The elevators were designed to move at 1,200 feet per minute (366 m/min). At the time of the skyscraper's construction, their practical speed was limited to 700 feet per minute (213 m/min) as per city law, but this limit was removed shortly after the building opened. [274] [53] Additional elevators connect the 80th floor to the six floors above it, as the six extra floors were built after the original 80 stories were approved. [54] [276] The elevators were mechanically operated until 2011, when they were replaced with automatic elevators during the $550 million renovation of the building. [277] An additional elevator connects the 86th and 102nd floor observatories, which allows visitors access the 102nd floor observatory after having their tickets scanned. It also allows employees to access the mechanical floors located between the 87th and 101st floors. The Empire State Building has 73 elevators in all, including service elevators. [270]


The original main lobby is accessed from Fifth Avenue, on the building's east side, and contains an entrance with one set of double doors between a pair of revolving doors. At the top of each doorway is a bronze motif depicting one of three "crafts or industries" used in the building's construction—Electricity, Masonry, and Heating. [278] The lobby contains two tiers of marble, a lighter marble on the top, above the storefronts, and a darker marble on the bottom, flush with the storefronts. There is a pattern of zigzagging terrazzo tiles on the lobby floor, which leads from the entrance on the east to the aluminum relief on the west. [279] The chapel-like three-story-high lobby, which runs parallel to 33rd and 34th Streets, contains storefronts on both its northern and southern sides. [280] These storefronts are framed on each side by tubes of dark "modernistically rounded marble", according to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and above by a vertical band of grooves set into the marble. [279] Immediately inside the lobby is an airport-style security checkpoint. [281] The side entrances from 33rd and 34th Street lead to two-story-high corridors around the elevator core, crossed by stainless steel and glass-enclosed bridges at the second floor. [253] [256]

The walls on both the northern and southern sides of the lobby house storefronts and escalators to a mezzanine level. [279] [h] At the west end of the lobby is an aluminum relief of the skyscraper as it was originally built (i.e. without the antenna). [282] The relief, which was intended to provide a welcoming effect, [283] contains an embossing of the building's outline, accompanied by what the Landmarks Preservation Commission describes as "the rays of an aluminum sun shining out behind [the building] and mingling with aluminum rays emanating from the spire of the Empire State Building". In the background is a state map of New York with the building's location marked by a "medallion" in the very southeast portion of the outline. A compass is located in the bottom right and a plaque to the building's major developers is on the bottom left. [284]

The plaque at the western end of the lobby is located on the eastern interior wall of a one-story tall rectangular-shaped corridor that surrounds the banks of escalators, with a similar design to the lobby. [285] The rectangular-shaped corridor actually consists of two long hallways on the northern and southern sides of the rectangle, [286] as well as a shorter hallway on the eastern side and another long hallway on the western side. [285] At both ends of the northern and southern corridors, there is a bank of four low-rise elevators in between the corridors. [207] The western side of the rectangular elevator-bank corridor extends north to the 34th Street entrance and south to the 33rd Street entrance. It borders three large storefronts and leads to escalators that go both to the second floor and to the basement. Going from west to east, there are secondary entrances to 34th and 33rd Streets from both the northern and southern corridors, respectively, at approximately the two-thirds point of each corridor. [279] [h]

Until the 1960s, an art deco mural, inspired by both the sky and the Machine Age, was installed in the lobby ceilings. [282] Subsequent damage to these murals, designed by artist Leif Neandross, resulted in reproductions being installed. Renovations to the lobby in 2009, such as replacing the clock over the information desk in the Fifth Avenue lobby with an anemometer and installing two chandeliers intended to be part of the building when it originally opened, revived much of its original grandeur. [229] The north corridor contained eight illuminated panels created in 1963 by Roy Sparkia and Renée Nemorov, in time for the 1964 World's Fair, depicting the building as the Eighth Wonder of the World alongside the traditional seven. [207] [287] The building's owners installed a series of paintings by the New York artist Kysa Johnson in the concourse level. Johnson later filed a federal lawsuit, in January 2014, under the Visual Artists Rights Act alleging the negligent destruction of the paintings and damage to her reputation as an artist. [288] As part of the building's 2010 renovation, Denise Amses commissioned a work consisting of 15,000 stars and 5,000 circles, superimposed on a 13-by-5-foot (4.0 by 1.5 m) etched-glass installation, in the lobby. [289]

Above the 102nd floor

The final stage of the building was the installation of a hollow mast, a 158-foot (48 m) steel shaft fitted with elevators and utilities, above the 86th floor. At the top would be a conical roof and the 102nd-floor docking station. [290] [143] Inside, the elevators would ascend 167 feet (51 m) from the 86th floor ticket offices to a 33-foot-wide (10 m) 101st-floor [g] waiting room. [160] [157] From there, stairs would lead to the 102nd floor, [g] where passengers would enter the airships. [290] The airships would have been moored to the spire at the equivalent of the building's 106th floor. [157] [158]

As constructed, the mast contains four rectangular tiers topped by a cylindrical shaft with a conical pinnacle. [143] On the 102nd floor (formerly the 101st floor), there is a door with stairs ascending to the 103rd floor (formerly the 102nd). [g] This was built as a disembarkation floor for airships tethered to the building's spire, and has a circular balcony outside. [13] It is now an access point to reach the spire for maintenance. The room now contains electrical equipment, but celebrities and dignitaries may also be given permission to take pictures there. [291] [292] Above the 103rd floor, there is a set of stairs and a ladder to reach the spire for maintenance work. [291] The mast's 480 windows were all replaced in 2015. [293] The mast serves as the base of the building's broadcasting antenna. [143]

Broadcast stations

Broadcasting began at the Empire State Building on December 22, 1931, when NBC and RCA began transmitting experimental television broadcasts from a small antenna erected atop the mast, with two separate transmitters for the visual and audio data. They leased the 85th floor and built a laboratory there. [155] In 1934, RCA was joined by Edwin Howard Armstrong in a cooperative venture to test his FM system from the building's antenna. [294] [295] This setup, which entailed the installation of the world's first FM transmitter, [295] continued only until October of the next year due to disputes between RCA and Armstrong. [155] [294] Specifically, NBC wanted to install more TV equipment in the room where Armstrong's transmitter was located. [295]

After some time, the 85th floor became home to RCA's New York television operations initially as experimental station W2XBS channel 1 then, from 1941, as commercial station WNBT channel 1 (now WNBC channel 4). NBC's FM station, W2XDG, began transmitting from the antenna in 1940. [155] [296] NBC retained exclusive use of the top of the building until 1950 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered the exclusive deal be terminated. The FCC directive was based on consumer complaints that a common location was necessary for the seven extant New York-area television stations to transmit from so that receiving antennas would not have to be constantly adjusted. Other television broadcasters would later join RCA at the building on the 81st through 83rd floors, often along with sister FM stations. [155] Construction of a dedicated broadcast tower began on July 27, 1950, [171] with TV, and FM, transmissions starting in 1951. The 200-foot (61 m) broadcast tower was completed in 1953. [143] [43] [172] From 1951, six broadcasters agreed to pay a combined $600,000 per year for the use of the antenna. [174] In 1965, a separate set of FM antennae was constructed ringing the 103rd floor observation area to act as a master antenna. [155]

The placement of the stations in the Empire State Building became a major issue with the construction of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in the late 1960s, and early 1970s. The greater height of the Twin Towers would reflect radio waves broadcast from the Empire State Building, eventually resulting in some broadcasters relocating to the newer towers instead of suing the developer, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. [297] Even though the nine stations who were broadcasting from the Empire State Building were leasing their broadcast space until 1984, most of these stations moved to the World Trade Center as soon as it was completed in 1971. The broadcasters obtained a court order stipulating that the Port Authority had to build a mast and transmission equipment in the North Tower, as well as pay the broadcasters' leases in the Empire State Building until 1984. [202] Only a few broadcasters renewed their leases in the Empire State Building. [298]

The September 11 attacks in 2001 destroyed the World Trade Center and the broadcast centers atop it, leaving most of the city's stations without a station for ten days until a temporary tower was built in Alpine, New Jersey. [299] By October 2001, nearly all of the city's commercial broadcast stations (both television and FM radio) were again transmitting from the top of the Empire State Building. In a report that Congress commissioned about the transition from analog television to digital television, it was stated that the placement of broadcast stations in the Empire State Building was considered "problematic" due to interference from nearby buildings. In comparison, the Congressional report stated that the former Twin Towers had very few buildings of comparable height nearby thus signals suffered little interference. [223] In 2003, a few FM stations were relocated to the nearby Condé Nast Building to reduce the number of broadcast stations using the Empire State Building. [300] Eleven television stations and twenty-two FM stations had signed 15-year leases in the building by May 2003. It was expected that a taller broadcast tower in Bayonne, New Jersey, or Governors Island, would be built in the meantime with the Empire State Building being used as a "backup" since signal transmissions from the building were generally of poorer quality. [301] Following the construction of One World Trade Center in the late 2000s and early 2010s, some TV stations began moving their transmitting facilities there. [302]

As of 2018 [update] , the Empire State Building is home to the following stations: [303]

Observation decks

The 80th, 86th, and 102nd floors contain observatories. [304] [282] [250] The latter two observatories saw a combined average of four million visitors per year in 2010. [105] [305] [306] Since opening, the observatories have been more popular than similar observatories at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the Chrysler Building, the first One World Trade Center, or the Woolworth Building, despite being more expensive. [305] There are variable charges to enter the observatories one ticket allows visitors to go as high as the 86th floor, and there is an additional charge to visit the 102nd floor. Other ticket options for visitors include scheduled access to view the sunrise from the observatory, a "premium" guided tour with VIP access, and the "AM/PM" package which allows for two visits in the same day. [307]

The 86th floor observatory contains both an enclosed viewing gallery and an open-air outdoor viewing area, allowing for it to remain open 365 days a year regardless of the weather. The 102nd floor observatory is completely enclosed and much smaller in size. The 102nd floor observatory was closed to the public from the late 1990s to 2005 due to limited viewing capacity and long lines. [308] [309] The observation decks were redesigned in mid-1979. [204] The 102nd floor was again redesigned in a project that was completed in 2019, allowing the windows to be extended from floor to ceiling and widening the space in the observatory overall. [246] [247] An observatory on the 80th floor, opened in 2019, includes various exhibits as well as a mural of the skyline drawn by British artist Stephen Wiltshire. [249] [250]

According to a 2010 report by Concierge.com, the five lines to enter the observation decks are "as legendary as the building itself". Concierge.com stated that there are five lines: the sidewalk line, the lobby elevator line, the ticket purchase line, the second elevator line, and the line to get off the elevator and onto the observation deck. [310] However, in 2016, New York City's official tourism website, NYCgo.com, made note of only three lines: the security check line, the ticket purchase line, and the second elevator line. [311] Following renovations completed in 2019, designed to streamline queuing and reduce wait times, guests enter from a single entrance on 34th Street, where they make their way through 10,000-square-foot (930 m 2 ) exhibits on their way up to the observatories. Guests were offered a variety of ticket packages, including a package that enables them to skip the lines throughout the duration of their stay. [247] The Empire State Building garners significant revenue from ticket sales for its observation decks, making more money from ticket sales than it does from renting office space during some years. [305] [312]

New York Skyride

In early 1994, a motion simulator attraction was built on the 2nd floor, [313] as a complement to the observation deck. [314] The original cinematic presentation lasted approximately 25 minutes, while the simulation was about eight minutes. [315]

The ride had two incarnations. The original version, which ran from 1994 until around 2002, featured James Doohan, Star Trek's Scotty, as the airplane's pilot who humorously tried to keep the flight under control during a storm. [316] [317] After the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the ride was closed. [314] An updated version debuted in mid-2002, featuring actor Kevin Bacon as the pilot, with the new flight also going haywire. [318] This new version served a more informative goal, as opposed to the old version's main purpose of entertainment, and contained details about the 9/11 attacks. [319] The simulator received mixed reviews, with assessments of the ride ranging from "great" to "satisfactory" to "corny". [320]


The building was originally equipped with white searchlights at the top. They were first used in November 1932 when they lit up to signal Roosevelt's victory over Hoover in the presidential election of that year. [321] These were later swapped for four "Freedom Lights" in 1956. [321] In February 1964, flood lights were added on the 72nd floor [187] to illuminate the top of the building at night so that the building could be seen from the World Fair later that year. [188] The lights were shut off from November 1973 to July 1974 because of the energy crisis at the time. [32] In 1976, the businessman Douglas Leigh suggested that Wien and Helmsley install 204 metal-halide lights, which were four times as bright as the 1,000 incandescent lights they were to replace. [322] New red, white, and blue metal-halide lights were installed in time for the country's bicentennial that July. [32] [323] After the bicentennial, Helmsley retained the new lights due to the reduced maintenance cost, about $116 a year. [322]

Since 1976, the spire has been lit in colors chosen to match seasonal events and holidays. Organizations are allowed to make requests through the building's website. [324] The building is also lit in the colors of New York-based sports teams on nights when they host games: for example, orange, blue, and white for the New York Knicks red, white, and blue for the New York Rangers. [325] It was twice lit in scarlet to support New Jersey's Rutgers University, once for a football game against the University of Louisville on November 9, 2006, and again on April 3, 2007, when the women's basketball team played in the national championship game. [326] The spire can also be lit to commemorate occasions such as disasters, anniversaries, or deaths. For instance, in 1998, the building was lit in blue after the death of singer Frank Sinatra, who was nicknamed "Ol' Blue Eyes". [327] The structure was lit in red, white, and blue for several months after the destruction of the World Trade Center in September 2001. [328] On January 13, 2012, the building was lit in red, orange, and yellow to honor the 60th anniversary of NBC program The Today Show. [329] After retired basketball player Kobe Bryant's January 2020 death, the building was lit in purple and gold, signifying the colors of his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers. [330]

In 2012, the building's four hundred metal halide lamps and floodlights were replaced with 1,200 LED fixtures, increasing the available colors from nine to over 16 million. [331] The computer-controlled system allows the building to be illuminated in ways that were unable to be done previously with plastic gels. [332] For instance, on November 6, 2012, CNN used the top of the Empire State Building as a scoreboard for the 2012 United States presidential election. When incumbent president Barack Obama had reached the 270 electoral votes necessary to win re-election, the lights turned blue, representing the color of Obama's Democratic Party. Had Republican challenger Mitt Romney won, the building would have been lit red, the color of the Republican Party. [333] Also, on November 26, 2012, the building had its first synchronized light show, using music from recording artist Alicia Keys. [334] Artists such as Eminem and OneRepublic have been featured in later shows, including the building's annual Holiday Music-to-Lights Show. [335] The building's owners adhere to strict standards in using the lights for instance, they do not use the lights to play advertisements. [332]

The longest world record held by the Empire State Building was for the tallest skyscraper (to structural height), which it held for 42 years until it was surpassed by the North Tower of the World Trade Center in October 1970. [199] [221] [336] The Empire State Building was also the tallest man-made structure in the world before it was surpassed by the Griffin Television Tower Oklahoma (KWTV Mast) in 1954, [337] and the tallest freestanding structure in the world until the completion of the Ostankino Tower in 1967. [199] An early-1970s proposal to dismantle the spire and replace it with an additional 11 floors, which would have brought the building's height to 1,494 feet (455 m) and made it once again the world's tallest at the time, was considered but ultimately rejected. [338]

With the destruction of the World Trade Center in the September 11 attacks, the Empire State Building again became the tallest building in New York City, and the second-tallest building in the Americas, surpassed only by the Willis Tower in Chicago. The Empire State Building remained the tallest building in New York until the new One World Trade Center reached a greater height in April 2012. [199] [221] [222] [339] As of September 2020 [update] , it is the seventh-tallest building in New York City after One World Trade Center, 111 West 57th Street, Central Park Tower, One Vanderbilt, 432 Park Avenue, and 30 Hudson Yards. It is the fifth-tallest completed skyscraper in the United States behind the two other tallest buildings in New York City, as well as the Willis Tower and Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. [340] The Empire State Building is the 49th-tallest in the world as of February 2021 [update] . [341] It is also the sixth-tallest freestanding structure in the Americas behind the five tallest buildings and the CN Tower. [342]

As of 2013 [update] , the building houses around 1,000 businesses. [343] Current tenants include:

  • The National Catholic Welfare Council (now Catholic Relief Services, located in Baltimore) [365] (now located at 56 Broadway) [366][348] (now located at 370 Lexington Avenue) [367][348] (now located at 1123 Broadway) [368][369][370] of the USA [371] (relocated to Washington, DC [372] )

1945 plane crash

At 9:40 am on July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber, piloted in thick fog by Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith Jr., [373] crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building between the 79th and 80th floors where the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Council were located. [166] One engine completely penetrated the building, landing on the roof of a nearby building where it started a fire that destroyed a penthouse. [365] [374] The other engine and part of the landing gear plummeted down an elevator shaft causing a fire, which was extinguished in 40 minutes. Fourteen people were killed in the incident. [167] [70] Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a plunge of 75 stories inside an elevator, which still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall recorded. [375]

Despite the damage and loss of life, the building was open for business on many floors two days later. [167] [168] The crash helped spur the passage of the long-pending Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, as well as the insertion of retroactive provisions into the law, allowing people to sue the government for the incident. [376] Also as a result of the crash, the Civil Aeronautics Administration enacted strict regulations regarding flying over New York City, setting a minimum flying altitude of 2,500 feet (760 m) above sea level regardless of the weather conditions. [377] [167]

A year later, on July 24, 1946, another aircraft narrowly missed striking the building. The unidentified twin-engine plane scraped past the observation deck, scaring the tourists there. [378]

2000 elevator plunge

On January 24, 2000, an elevator in the building suddenly descended 40 stories after a cable that controlled the cabin's maximum speed was severed. [379] The elevator fell from the 44th floor to the fourth floor, where a narrowed elevator shaft provided a second safety system. Despite the 40-floor fall, both of the passengers in the cabin at the time were only slightly injured. [380] Since that elevator had no fourth-floor doors, the passengers were rescued by an adjacent elevator. [381] After the fall, building inspectors reviewed all of the building's elevators. [380]

Suicide attempts

Because of the building's iconic status, it and other Midtown landmarks are popular locations for suicide attempts. [382] More than 30 people have attempted suicide over the years by jumping from the upper parts of the building, with most attempts being successful. [383] [384]

The first suicide from the building occurred on April 7, 1931, before it was even completed, when a carpenter who had been laid-off went to the 58th floor and jumped. [385] The first suicide after the building's opening occurred from the 86th floor observatory in February 1935, when Irma P. Eberhardt fell 1,029 feet (314 m) onto a marquee sign. [386] On December 16, 1943, William Lloyd Rambo jumped to his death from the 86th floor, landing amidst Christmas shoppers on the street below. [387] In the early morning of September 27, 1946, shell-shocked Marine Douglas W. Brashear Jr. jumped from the 76th-floor window of the Grant Advertising Agency police found his shoes 50 feet (15 m) from his body. [388]

On May 1, 1947, Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the 86th floor observation deck and landed on a limousine parked at the curb. Photography student Robert Wiles took a photo of McHale's oddly intact corpse a few minutes after her death. The police found a suicide note among possessions that she left on the observation deck: "He is much better off without me. I wouldn't make a good wife for anybody". The photo ran in the May 12, 1947 edition of Life magazine [389] and is often referred to as "The Most Beautiful Suicide". It was later used by visual artist Andy Warhol in one of his prints entitled Suicide (Fallen Body). [390] A 7-foot (2.1 m) mesh fence was put up around the 86th floor terrace in December 1947 after five people tried to jump during a three-week span in October and November of that year. [391] [392] By then, sixteen people had died from suicide jumps. [391]

Only one person has jumped from the upper observatory. Frederick Eckert of Astoria ran past a guard in the enclosed 102nd-floor gallery on November 3, 1932, and jumped a gate leading to an outdoor catwalk intended for dirigible passengers. He landed and died on the roof of the 86th floor observation promenade. [393]

Two people have survived falls by not falling more than a floor. On December 2, 1979, Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor, only to be blown back onto a ledge on the 85th floor by a gust of wind and left with a broken hip. [394] [395] [396] On April 25, 2013, a man fell from the 86th floor observation deck, but he landed alive with minor injuries on an 85th-floor ledge where security guards brought him inside and paramedics transferred him to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. [397]


Two fatal shootings have occurred in the direct vicinity of the Empire State Building. Abu Kamal, a 69-year-old Palestinian teacher, shot seven people on the 86th floor observation deck during the afternoon of February 23, 1997. He killed one person and wounded six others before committing suicide. [398] Kamal reportedly committed the shooting in response to events happening in Palestine and Israel. [399]

On the morning of August 24, 2012, 58-year-old Jeffrey T. Johnson shot and killed a former co-worker on the building's Fifth Avenue sidewalk. He had been laid off from his job in 2011. Two police officers confronted the gunman, and he aimed his firearm at them. They responded by firing 16 shots, killing him but also wounding nine bystanders. Most of the injured were hit by bullet fragments, although three took direct hits from bullets. [12] [400]

As the tallest building in the world and the first one to exceed 100 floors, the Empire State Building immediately became an icon of the city and of the nation. [126] [135] [203] In 2013, Time magazine noted that the Empire State Building "seems to completely embody the city it has become synonymous with". [401] The historian John Tauranac called it "'the' twentieth-century New York building", despite the existence of taller and more modernist buildings. [402]

Early architectural critics also focused on the Empire State Building's exterior ornamentation. [38] Architectural critic Talbot Hamlin wrote in 1931, "That it is the world's tallest building is purely incidental." [403] George Shepard Chappell, writing in The New Yorker under the pseudonym "T-Square", wrote the same year that the Empire State Building had a "palpably enormous" appeal to the general public, and that "its difference and distinction [lay] in the extreme sensitiveness of its entire design". [38] [404] However, architectural critics also wrote negatively of the mast, especially in light of its failure to become a real air terminal. Chappell called the mast "a silly gesture" and Lewis Mumford called it "a public comfort station for migratory birds". [38] Nevertheless, architecture critic Douglas Haskell said the Empire State Building's appeal came from the fact that it was "caught at the exact moment of transition—caught between metal and stone, between the idea of 'monumental mass' and that of airy volume, between handicraft and machine design, and in the swing from what was essentially handicraft to what will be essentially industrial methods of fabrication." [405] [406]

Status as an icon

Early in the building's history, travel companies such as Short Line Motor Coach Service and New York Central Railroad used the building as an icon to symbolize the city. [407] After the construction of the first World Trade Center, architect Paul Goldberger noted that the Empire State Building "is famous for being tall, but it is good enough to be famous for being good." [204]

As an icon of the United States, it is also very popular among Americans. In a 2007 survey, the American Institute of Architects found that the Empire State Building was "America's favorite building". [408] The building was originally a symbol of hope in a country devastated by the Depression, as well as a work of accomplishment by newer immigrants. [126] The writer Benjamin Flowers states that the Empire State was "a building intended to celebrate a new America, built by men (both clients and construction workers) who were themselves new Americans." [121] The architectural critic Jonathan Glancey refers to the building as an "icon of American design". [343]

The Empire State Building has been hailed as an example of a "wonder of the world" due to the massive effort expended during construction. The Washington Star listed it as part of one of the "seven wonders of the modern world" in 1931, while Holiday magazine wrote in 1958 that the Empire State's height would be taller than the combined heights of the Eiffel Tower and the Great Pyramid of Giza. [402] The American Society of Civil Engineers also declared the building "A Modern Civil Engineering Wonder of the United States" in 1958, and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in 1994. [182] Ron Miller, in a 2010 book, also described the Empire State Building as one of the "seven wonders of engineering". [409] It has often been called the Eighth Wonder of the World as well, an appellation that it has held since shortly after opening. [69] [164] [410] The panels installed in the lobby in 1963 reflected this, showing the seven original wonders alongside the Empire State Building. [287] The Empire State Building also became the standard of reference to describe the height and length of other structures globally, both natural and man-made. [411]

In popular culture

As an icon of New York City, the Empire State Building has been featured in various films, books, TV shows, and video games. According to the building's official website, more than 250 movies contain depictions of the Empire State Building. [412] In his book about the building, John Tauranac writes that its first documented appearance in popular culture was Swiss Family Manhattan, a 1932 children's story by Christopher Morley. [413] A year later, the film King Kong depicted Kong, a large stop motion ape that climbs the Empire State Building, [137] [138] [281] bringing the building into the popular imagination. [281] Later movies such as An Affair to Remember (1957), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and Independence Day (1996) also featured the building. [414] [412] The building has also been featured in other works, such as "Daleks in Manhattan", a 2007 episode of the TV series Doctor Who [414] and Empire, an eight-hour black-and-white silent film by Andy Warhol, [414] which was later added to the Library of Congress's National Film Registry. [415]

Empire State Building Run-Up

The Empire State Building Run-Up, a foot race from ground level to the 86th-floor observation deck, has been held annually since 1978. Its participants are referred to both as runners and as climbers, and are often tower running enthusiasts. The race covers a vertical distance of 1,050 ft (320 m) and takes in 1,576 steps. The record time is 9 minutes and 33 seconds, achieved by Australian professional cyclist Paul Crake in 2003, at a climbing rate of 6,593 ft (2,010 m) per hour. [416] [417]

Notable People

Jack Dempsey (1895–1983). Dempsey was the first major athlete in the interwar era following World War I—an era that became known as the Golden Era of Sports. At 6'1" and 190 pounds, he was not as big as modern day heavyweights, but his rise from humble origins, aggressive boxing style, and rugged persona gained him substantial popularity. Dempsey was born to poor Irish immigrants in Manassa, Colorado. During much of his youth, he rode the rails in the West as a hobo, looking for work and getting into fights. He entered professional boxing in 1917 and quickly rose to the heavyweight championship on July 4, 1919. Dempsey remained champion for over seven years. To the American public, Dempsey represented a link to the nation's rugged past in an era of rapid change. He also complemented the vitality of the new age of jazz and the automobile. Dempsey lost his title to exmarine Gene Tunney in September 1926 before a crowd of 130,000 spectators. The two boxers offered stark contrasts in style and personality which reflected the social conflicts in America during the 1920s. Tunney, coming from a middle-class family, represented a more scientific approach to boxing as opposed to Dempsey's brawler image.

Biography: Henry Ford

1863, July 30–1947, April 7 Henry Ford was an American industrialist who revolutionized factory production through the use of assembly line methods. This innovation spawned mass production and mass consumerism, a hallmark of the era of the 1920s and 1930s. Ford was born and raised on a farm in Dearborn, Michigan. At age 16 Ford began work in Detroit machine shops where he first became familiar with the internal combustion engine. He moved back to the farm where he built his own machine shop and began working on a small farm tractor using a steam engine. Ford again returned to Detroit where he gained employment as chief engineer for the Detroit Edison Company, which provided electrical service to the city. Pursuing his interests aside from his employment, he completed his first working gasoline powered engine by late 1893 and in 1896 built his first horseless carriage. With help from various backers, Ford formed the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899. After leaving and creating the Ford Motor Company in 1903, Ford marketed his first automobile. Then, in a move that would revolutionize America, in October 1908 Ford introduced the Model T automobile. In an effort to produce cars for the ordinary person rather than only the rich, Ford stressed low prices. The Model T sold for only $290 in 1927. Ford sold over 15 million cars in the United States in the next 19 years, and another one million in Canada. That was half of the automobiles sold in the world.

Because of Ford's goal to reach the common person, the car produced one of the greatest and most rapid changes in world history. The automobile industry became the strongest contributor to the American economy and greatly influenced the growth of cities and the spread of suburbs. It was production of the Model T that revolutionized industrial production by introducing the assembly line concept. Ford first introduced the concept in the new Highland Park, Michigan, auto plant in 1914. A new car was produced every 93 minutes, six times faster than previously possible. It was a giant gain in industrial productivity.

Another major achievement by Ford was attaining complete self-sufficiency with the opening of the River Rouge plant in 1927. With his new assembly line techniques, Ford was producing cars faster than his parts suppliers could keep up in the early 1920s. To fix that problem, Ford gained control of all aspects of the car manufacturing business, including the mining of raw materials, their transport to machine and auto plants, and the production and delivery of the automobiles.

Despite his major early achievements, the new auto industry kept changing rapidly, with many new innovations. By the late 1920s, Ford's company was lagging behind the innovations introduced by other car manufacturers. In December 1927 he introduced the Model A, but General Motor's Chevrolet and Chrysler's Plymouth outsold it. By 1936 Ford Motor Company ranked third in auto sales.

In addition to not keeping up with new innovations, Ford also bitterly opposed the formation of labor unions in the 1930s. He hired company police who incited violence to prevent unionization. This intimidation continued even after Chrysler and General Motors had come to terms with the United Automobile Workers (UAW). Ford workers did not organize until 1941.

Though Ford introduced tremendous technological change to U.S. society, he was still a believer in the rural values of his early life. Yet in an era marked by a major change in America from a rural agricultural to an urban industrial nation, Henry Ford perhaps was the most influential individual. He had triggered a permanent change in the economic and social character of the United States.

Lewis Mumford (1895–1990). Mumford was an American historian, urban planner, and architectural critic. He studied at the City College of New York and at the New School for Social Research. Mumford wrote on urban issues and architecture for New Yorker magazine from 1931 to 1963. After publishing several books from 1926 to 1931 on the history of American architecture, Mumford authored another series of four books from 1934 to 1951 criticizing the dehumanizing aspects of modern technological society. He urged that technology should be brought into harmony with more humanistic goals. He offered solutions to achieve this harmony in these books, which were entitled Technics and Civilization (1934), The Culture of Cities (1938), The Condition of Man (1944), and The Conduct of Life (1951). A key later work by Mumford was The City in History (1961), which assessed the role of the city in the history of human civilization. He received the U.S. Medal of Freedom in 1964 from President Lyndon Johnson. Mumford continued his criticism of the role of technology in a two-volume set titled The Myth of the Machine (1967–1970).

George Herman "Babe" Ruth (1895–1948). Baseball legend Babe Ruth dominated the sports world like no other during the 1920s and 1930s. His exuberant personality off the field, and accomplishments on the field, contributed to a mythology. Ruth was born and raised in the slums of Baltimore, Maryland. Largely neglected by his family, Ruth became a very mischievous youth. Lacking the financial means to raise Ruth, his parents legally committed him to St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage, at age seven.

A standout in baseball, the local Baltimore minor league team signed Ruth in 1914. His contract was sold to the Boston Red Sox later that same year. In 1915 his hitting and pitching led the Red Sox to the World Series. He led the Red Sox to two more World Series in 1916 and 1918 before being sold to the New York Yankees in early 1920 because of the Red Sox's financial problems. Ruth's notoriety quickly took off in New York with his penchant for fast cars and women, rich food and drink, and stylish clothes. On the field he set hitting records and led the Yankees to seven World Series between 1921 and 1932. Until his retirement in 1935, he led the American League in home runs twelve times, including sixty in 1927 which stood as a major league record for the next 34 years.

Ruth projected a vibrant cultural image and was admired for both his rambunctious behavior and success. He symbolized the realization of the American dream through his display of power, natural ability, uninhibited lifestyle, and success rising from a rough childhood to fame and fortune. Ruth represented the ultimate spendthrift in the age of rising consumerism. He was the ultimate hero of the era and loved playing that role.

William Carlos Williams (1883–1963). A U.S. poet as well as medical doctor, Williams became a critic of the world's social trends during the Great Depression through such poems as "Proletarian Portrait" and "The Yachts." Later in Paterson, a five-volume set published between 1946 and 1958, Williams continued to assess modern man in America. Williams also wrote novels, including White Mule (1937), short stories, and an off-Broadway play. He was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1963.

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959). Wright was one of the most influential architects in U.S. history and greatly contributed to the rise in modernism in America. Through his career Wright designed some eight hundred buildings, of which 380 were built. He briefly attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison from 1885 to 1886 where he took engineering courses because no architectural training was offered. Eager to practice architecture, Wright left college for Chicago, where he found employment in an architectural firm. By 1893 he opened his own firm. His first work, designing a house for W.H. Winslow, attracted considerable national attention. Wright became a key part of the "Prairie School" movement in architecture. The Prairie School became widely recognized for the innovative approach to building modern homes. Contrary to architectural trends of the time, Wright utilized mass-produced materials and equipment, normally used for commercial buildings. Wright also diverged from the more elaborate compartmentalization (dividing into small rooms) and ornamental detailing of homes, opting for plain walls, open space, and roomier living areas. Wright built fifty Prairie houses between 1900 and 1910. He also designed and built apartment houses, churches, company buildings, and recreation centers. In 1909 he built his own residence, named Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

The stock market crash in 1929 stopped almost all architectural activity in the United States. During the early years of the Great Depression, Wright lectured at Princeton, Chicago, and New York City. He also began writing on urban problems in the United States, publishing The Disappearing City in 1932. Wright began the Taliesin Fellowship program, a training program for architects and related artists at Taliesin at Green Springs, Wisconsin. During the Depression Wright developed a new system for constructing low-cost homes known as Usonians. Among them were the Jacobs house (1937) in Wisconsin and the Winckler-Goetsch house (1939) in Michigan. When the economy improved, Wright began receiving commissions once again. Perhaps most notable was the weekend retreat, known as "Fallingwater," Wright built in Pittsburgh in 1936 The house extended out over a waterfall. Other work included the campus and buildings at Florida Southern College during the 1940s, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, and the Marin County government center north of San Francisco.

Wright introduced a whole new style of American architecture. It involved considerable use of open space and "organic architecture" in which buildings harmonize with their setting as well as the inhabitants. To this end Wright published An Organic Architecture in 1939.


Banner, Louis. Women in Modern America: A Brief History. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.

Dubofsky, Melvin. Industrialism and the American Worker, 1865 – 1920. Arlington Heights, IL: AHM, 1975.

Gutman, Herbert G. Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America. New York: Knopf, 1976.

Kanowitz, Leo. Women and the Law: The Unfinished Revolution. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1969.

Rodgers, Daniel T. The Work Ethic in Industrial America, 1850 – 1920. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

in the late nineteenth century more industrial accidents occurred in the united states than in any other industrial country . . . . by 1900 industrial accidents killed thirty-five thousand workers each year and maimed five hundred thousand others, and the numbers continued to rise.

Legacy on Building

While architects strive to design safe buildings, developers don't always want to pay for over-redundancies to mitigate outcomes of events that are unlikely to happen. The legacy of 9/11 is that new construction in the United States must now adhere to more demanding building codes. Tall office buildings are required to have more durable fireproofing, extra emergency exits, and many other fire safety features. The events of 9/11 changed the way we build, at local, state, and international levels.

Trump calls into WWOR-TV on 9/11

Donald Trump says his building is tallest in lower Manhattan after fall of twin towers of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. From Fox 5 News NY: http://bit.ly/2cspghV

That day, 15 years ago this Sunday, thrust many people into new roles. While Trump was trying on the mantle of statesman, Hillary Clinton’s visibility was given a sudden boost. Before the end of the day, Clinton, then the junior senator from New York with less than a year on the job and scrupulously deferential to her senior colleagues, would find herself on CNN, being interviewed in primetime by the network’s congressional correspondent, Jonathan Karl.

“We have to make it very clear,” she continued, “that we cannot permit any state, any government, any institution or individual to pursue terrorism aims that are directed at the United States or any country with impunity. So I’m hoping that this is the kind of dramatic, terrible catastrophe that unites the entire civilized world.”

As the Trump and Clinton campaigns mark this anniversary by going temporarily dark—a brief respite from a toxic, unsettling campaign—it is possible to see their respective experiences on September 11 as turning points that seem especially resonant now as these two candidates with deep New York connections vie bitterly for the job of leader of the free world.

Clinton was early in her first stint as a politician in her own right, after more than a decade as the wife of a governor and eight years as the wife of the president. One of the most famous women in the world wanted to be seen, she said, as “a workhorse, not a show horse.”

Trump was more than a decade removed from his rise in the late ‘80s and his fall of the early ‘90s, well past his first spate of corporate bankruptcies and his brush with personal financial disaster—but he was still two-plus years from the opening episode of The Apprentice, the reality TV show that elevated his fame to unprecedented heights. At this juncture, though, Trump was a businessman in New York, a debt-saddled owner of casinos in Atlantic City and planning a new building in Chicago. He had divorced his second wife. He was dating the woman who would become his third, the former Melania Knauss. He was a registered Democrat. He had just toyed with running for president, again, this time on the Reform Party ticket, generating headlines and eye rolls. He was known mostly for being known. “He was a nonentity,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien said. “Someone who was trying to regain his status as a player,” longtime New York gossip columnist George Rush added.

In the ensuing years, he would use his TV-charged celebrity to barge more seriously onto the national political scene, currying favor with far-right portions of the population by pushing conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birthplace. And Clinton would work as a senator to secure aid for victims and workers of the 9/11 attacks and then go on to become a key cabinet member to the same president Trump needled, furthering as Secretary of State an international prominence as large as the made-for-TV boss from The Apprentice.

But both of them started that day like everybody else—as witnesses to the unfolding horror.

Trump was in New York, on Fifth Avenue in Trump Tower, where he works and lives, and he watched first on TV and then out his windows, staring four miles south at the black smoke in the blue sky.

“We saw it,” said George Ross, a longtime attorney for Trump and an executive vice president of the Trump Organization. “We saw it out the window. I was sitting in his office.” Ross described the mood in the office as “unbelief.”

“We were listening to the news, like everybody else,” he said.

Clinton, meanwhile, was down in Washington, at her home on Whitehaven. She had CNN on as she talked on the phone with her legislative director when the first plane hit. Then the second. By the time she got to the Capitol, the Pentagon had been hit by a third plane. Capitol police were evacuating Senate office buildings. She dialed her daughter, who was in New York. She dialed her husband, who was in Australia. She and other senators received a briefing at the Capitol police station early in the evening. And after “a day indelibly etched in my mind,” and as nightfall approached, Clinton joined congressional colleagues on the steps of the Capitol, standing next to some of her fiercest political opponents, singing “God Bless America” with tears in her eyes.

But maybe the most surprising difference between Clinton and Trump on September 11 and in the nerve-racking days and weeks that followed: She, not he, sounded like the tougher talker.

In the immediate aftermath of the worst terrorist attacks in the history of the country, Trump talked publicly mostly about the buildings, and his buildings, and market ramifications and the character and resiliency of the citizens of the city where he’s lived almost his entire life. But reporters then had only so much reason to ask him about issues of national security or foreign policy.

In Clinton’s voice, though, in remarks in news conferences and TV interviews and on the Senate floor, there was an audible mixture of patriotism and hopes for bipartisanship—and vengeance, too. A full week before President Bush painted a stark divide of a new world—“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” he said in an address to a joint session of Congress on September 20—Clinton expressed the identical idea, and in equally bellicose terms, on CBS Evening News. “Every nation has to be either with us, or against us,” she told Dan Rather. “Those who harbor terrorists, or who finance them, are going to pay a price.”

The night of September 10, 2001, Trump was at a Marc Jacobs fashion show in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, cheering from the front row he shared with Hilary Swank, Sarah Jessica Parker and Monica Lewinsky.

Former New Yorker editor Tina Brown was there, too, and spotted his “bobbing-custard comb-over,” she would write later in the Washington Post.

The next morning, Trump stayed in his apartment in Trump Tower longer than normal, he would tell shock jock Howard Stern, because he wanted to watch a TV interview with Jack Welch, who had retired as the CEO of General Electric and had a new business book he was publicizing called Straight from the Gut. News programming broke in after the first plane hit.

“I saw the whole thing,” Trump told Stern, saying he had windows from which he could see the World Trade Center. “I mean, specifically, I have two windows that are focused on the building.” He made his way 40 floors down to his office.

He called Larry Silverstein, the real estate magnate who recently had purchased the World Trade Center lease—“a very sad call,” Trump would tell Real Estate Weekly.

He talked briefly with a reporter from the New York Times. Randal C. Archibold had been assigned a story on building security in the city.

“It was hard getting people on the phones,” Archibold said this week. “The telephones were screwy because of the attacks. I basically called him because I knew he had a reputation of being fairly accessible. I figured it was a good shot.”

Archibold left a message with a secretary. Trump called back quickly.

Trump said he had heard many people who worked in offices at 40 Wall Street had scrambled over piles of debris to flee. He said he and other owners of buildings would have to reassess safety precautions—but pointed out the difficulty of guarding against an attack from the air.

“When they start dealing with airplanes,” Trump told Archibold, “that’s beyond anything you can do but bring in the Air Force to get them before they get you.”

What Archibold remembers about the conversation, he said, wasn’t so much what Trump said but how he said it.

“He wasn’t bombastic in any way,” Archibold said. “There was no anger or bile in his voice. I remember he was, I think, like everybody else, in shock and dismayed at what happened. I wouldn’t say somber—but not like you see on the campaign trail today. I don’t remember him being the kind of character you see now, kind of … very forceful, let’s call it.”

And Trump did the WWOR interview, similar in tenor.

“This country is different today,” Trump said, “and it’s going to be different than it ever was for many years to come.”

He added, “I guess the big thing you really will have to do is never forget.”

“He was terrific for most of the interview,” Marcus said, but the tallest-building comment was par for the course for Trump—“ready, fire, aim,” Marcus said, “never ready, aim, fire.”

“I think it was an all-of-a-sudden epiphany for him, and he seemed to just blurt it out,” Rolland Smith, one of the anchors of that day’s coverage of the attacks, said this week.

“We’re all New Yorkers. We all had interviewed him,” said Brenda Blackmon, the other WWOR anchor who conducted the interview. “It was a shock, but not a surprise.”

Including the calls and the interviews, Trump didn’t do much out of the ordinary that day, said Ross, the attorney and executive vice president of the Trump Organization.

“It was just a day like any other day, except it was a horrible situation,” he said. “We were in business, and this went down.”

In Washington, Clinton’s business that day was supposed to include a Senate hearing on early childhood education. Laura Bush, her successor in the East Wing of the White House, was scheduled to testify. Looking forward to discussion about a subject that was a lifelong interest of hers, Clinton opted to wear a cheerful yellow suit.

When she saw on CNN the second plane hit the south tower while on the phone with Ann O’Leary, her legislative director, “she knew it was terrorism,” according to O’Leary. “She knew already, or suspected, which terrorist organization it was. She was very concerned about whether our country was ready, and raised these concerns on the call, and said, ‘I need to come in immediately. I need to get off the phone. I need to get in my car and come to the Senate.’”

Capitol police started ordering people out of congressional office buildings. O’Leary led 15 or so junior staffers outside. Clinton’s Secret Service Suburban pulled up.

“She kind of held her hands out,” O’Leary said, “and we came to her …”

Clinton saw Gene Sperling, an economic adviser to her husband, and called to him to get into her vehicle. He watched her try to reach her daughter in New York, try to reach FEMA, try to make sense of the mounting national calamity.

“It was like watching her move back and forth from each role in her life minute by minute,” Sperling told John Harris a few months later. “Then suddenly, the radio announcer starts screaming, ‘Oh my God, the World Trade Tower has collapsed, oh my God, the World Trade Tower has collapsed …’”

By the time Clinton sang “God Bless America” in the fading light on the steps of the Capitol before going on CNN, she was no longer wearing yellow. She was wearing black.

“We can’t let these evil acts in any way deter us from making it clear that the United States is resolute,” Clinton told Karl, the congressional correspondent, “and we are going to support the president.”

The next morning, September 12, in remarks on the Senate floor, she said, “My daughter told me that it was one of those days where the skies were totally clear and there was a breeze and people were starting to line up at the polling places to vote because it was primary day, election day—a continuation of the commitment to democracy and self-government that has set us apart from every society that has ever existed because of the longevity of our democracy and the will of our people to constantly renew ourselves. New Yorkers went from standing in line to vote to standing in line to donate blood in just a few hours.”

She said, “I have expressed my strong support for the president—not only as the senator from New York, but as someone for eight years who has some sense of the burdens and responsibilities that fall on the shoulders of the human being we make our president.”

That afternoon, she joined her fellow senator from New York, Chuck Schumer, and also Charles Rangel, the Democratic congressman from New York, and boarded a FEMA plane to New York, where they got into a helicopter, which flew to Ground Zero and circled above the smoking, twisted wreckage. Clinton described it “like a scene out of Dante’s Inferno.”

“From the sky as we flew in, looking down on the Trade Center, what I saw were what looked like the gates of Hell,” she said, according to the New Yorker. “Any person of faith knows that evil is omnipresent, and the struggle we face is to overcome the tendency to lash out in violence at each other. My religion starts with the story of one brother murdering another. Human nature is always going to challenge us. But I believe that God has a purpose, and the challenge of being human is to overcome the cheap, easy allure of evil.”

On the ground, wearing a surgical mask, the caustic air burned her lungs and eyes as she toured the disaster site with New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and governor George Pataki. She caught the last train out of Penn Station before it closed for the night.

Two days after the attacks, in a private meeting with Republican and Democratic colleagues at the Capitol, she described what she had seen, according to the New York Daily News, choking back tears. Later, she met with the president in the Oval Office, her first visit there since she was First Lady, along with Schumer wrangling from Bush a commitment for $20 billion of federal aid for New York alone—$11 billion of which was ultimately provided. Clinton told Bush, Frank Bruni would write, “that few people could understand the loneliness of the White House, but that she did, and she wanted him to know that.”

As that was happening in Washington, Trump was in New York, spotted walking near Ground Zero, according to Newsday, dressed in a black suit, white shirt and red tie and talking into his cell phone. “No, no,” he was overheard saying. “The building’s gone.”

Four blocks from the site, he did an interview with a news station in Germany.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Trump told the reporter, Stephan Bachenheimer. “The devastation. The human life that’s been just wasted, for no reason whatsoever. It is a terrible scene. It is a terrible sight. But New Yorkers are very strong and resilient, and they’ll rebuild quickly.”

He told Bachenheimer workers of his were pitching in with the recovery. “We have a lot of men down here right now,” he said. “We have over 100, another 125 coming.”

“Mr. Trump,” Bachenheimer asked, “what should be the response to this attack How should the U.S. respond …?”

“Well,” Trump said, squinting into the sun, “I think they have to respond quickly and effectively. They have to find out exactly what the cause was, who did it, and they have to go after these people, because there is no other choice.” He spoke of the challenge of preventing such an attack. “People were willing to die,” he said, “and when they’re willing to die, and when they’re willing to be kamikazes in a sense, there’s very little you can do about it.”

In an interview this week from France, where Bachenheimer was vacationing, he said it seemed like Trump was in a hurry. “He said, ‘How long does it take? I have very little time,’” Bachenheimer said. Then he answered questions for longer than expected.

The cameraman, Markus Zeffler, said it’s often difficult to get VIP-type Americans to agree to go on foreign TV stations. This, he recalled, was not the case with Trump. Zeffler told Trump their station was like German CNN. “It wasn’t hard to convince him to come on,” he said.

The following day, September 14, Clinton joined her husband and four other former presidents at a prayer service at Washington’s National Cathedral.

On Monday of the following week, she traveled to New York, where she was on hand to re-open the New York Stock Exchange.

Trump that day talked on the phone to a reporter from the New York Post about what should happen at Ground Zero.

“Once they get it cleared—and that is going to be a very long process—we will all have a better idea of what can be done on the site,” he said. “The current mindset is to put up new towers, and I agree with that.”

But they shouldn’t be exact replicas, he added.

“To be blunt, they were not great buildings,” Trump said. “They only became great upon their demise last Tuesday.”

Clinton, it is now clear, would get one thing really wrong in the weeks and months after September 11.

Nicholas Lemann of the New Yorker met with her in Washington in late September and asked if she thought the attacks in some sense would prove to be a unifying force—if the diabolical havoc of the day would rid the national debate of extreme polarization and anti-government rage.

“I think the answer is that we saw government in action,” she said. “It wasn’t some abstract target of our discontent. It was the firefighters. It was the emergency workers. It was the elected officials who were leading and comforting. It had a human face. And now, when we’re looking at the war against terrorism, we’re asking ourselves: How do we beef up security? Well, maybe the government has to do more. How do we root out these terrorists? Well, the government has to come up with the plans and the intelligence and the resources. We had the luxury—some might say the failure of historical understanding—after the end of the Cold War that gave people the idea that they didn’t need a government, or they needed it in only the most rudimentary way, and there was a collective sense of misunderstanding about what government is and does.”

In her first memoir, Living History, published in 2003, she would write, “That September morning changed me …”

And in an interview in 2006, she would say, “I felt this overwhelming sense of loss, and commitment and obligation to do everything I could do …”

Trump, on the other hand, would tell the Chicago Sun-Times a week after the attacks he was looking at design options in the planning of his tower in that city, “some tall, some not so tall,” he said. “Tall buildings are what make architecture in Chicago and New York great.” (That’s not the way the architects remembered it, one of the architects said later, the Chicago Tribune reporting Trump’s representatives no longer wanted the tower “to be the world’s tallest building. Shorter would be better.”)

Not two months after the attacks, Trump gave a speech to Wharton Business School graduates, according to Real Estate Weekly. In the question-and-answer session, one of them told Trump he had just before September 11 bought an apartment near what had turned into Ground Zero.

“What should I do now?” he asked.

(“After the attacks, some people and companies left New York City, but I never considered moving,” he would say later.)

In 2004, Trump would say in Esquire, “I would have been tougher on terrorism. Bin Laden would have been caught long ago.” In 2008, in his book Never Give Up, he noted that he “had predicted an attack” the year before it happened in another book of his, The America We Deserve—and he had, more or less, saying he was “convinced we’re in danger of the sort of terrorist attacks that will make the bombing of the Trade Center”—in 1993—“look like kids playing with firecrackers.” Also, he wrote: “Whatever their motives—fanaticism, revenge—suffice it to say that plenty of people would stand in line for a crack at a suicide mission within America.” On the 12th anniversary, he said on Twitter, “I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th.” (He would delete the tweet two years later in the middle of his presidential campaign.)

Throughout the current presidential campaign, Trump and Clinton both have talked about September 11.

Trump said at a rally last fall in Ohio he “witnessed” people jumping out of the towers from his apartment four miles north in Manhattan. He said falsely he also had seen Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the attacks. “The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign,” Trump told Jeb Bush in a debate in the primaries earlier this year. He said in August his Muslim ban would have prevented 9/11—markedly different rhetoric from his interviews early on with WWOR, the New York Times and German TV.

“None of us,” Clinton said at an event in New York in March, “who lived through 9/11 and its aftermath will ever forget the lives lost, lower Manhattan in ruins, toxic dust and debris raining down, and the many examples of heroism we saw.”

“I have been focused on defeating terrorism since 9/11,” she said at an event in California in June. Her trip to Ground Zero, she said, “was as close to how Hell is described as I ever hope to see again,” adding that it “meant a lot to me” to be in the room with the president when American forces killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.

Back, though, on the one-year anniversary, on September 11, 2002, when memories of the attacks were still raw, Clinton was one of the politicians and dignitaries who read the names of the dead at the ceremony at Ground Zero.

In an interview on NPR, she said, “I hope that we would use our strength and our success to build a more peaceful world where we have more partners instead of terrorists, where we recognize that with great power does come great responsibility, and that we would pass on to our children an appreciation for the extraordinary blessings that we enjoy and sometimes take for granted here in our country. ”

Trump that day was not on NPR. He was on Howard Stern’s show. It’s an interview that’s gotten a lot of attention of late because Stern asked Trump if he was in favor of invading Iraq, and Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so.” Throughout this campaign Trump has insisted—contrary to that statement—that he always opposed the invasion. But before Stern asked him that, the provocative host asked him something else.

“Probably the most important question I can ask you on a day like today is: Where is Melania, and is she naked?” Stern said.

“Well,” Trump responded, as the names of the dead were being read at Ground Zero, “Melania is now in bed—I’m in my office—and as to whether or not she’s naked, I’m not 100 percent sure.”



The response to 9/11 continues into its 14th year. The World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP), a long-term monitoring and treatment program now funded by the Zadroga Act of 2010, includes >60,000 World Trade Center (WTC) disaster responders and community members (“survivors”). The aim of this review is to identify several elements that have had a critical impact on the evolution of the WTC response and, directly or indirectly, the health of the WTC-exposed population. It further explores post-disaster monitoring efforts, recent scientific findings from the WTCHP, and some implications of this experience for ongoing and future environmental disaster response.


Transparency and responsiveness, site safety and worker training, assessment of acute and chronic exposure, and development of clinical expertise are interconnected elements determining efficacy of disaster response.


Even in a relatively well-resourced environment, challenges regarding allocation of appropriate attention to vulnerable populations and integration of treatment response to significant medical and mental health comorbidities remain areas of ongoing programmatic development.

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