The Empire State Building is a 102-story skyscraper located in New York City. It’s
named for New York, the “Empire State”. When the building opened in 1931, it was the
tallest building in the world! It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
The Empire State Building was erected as part of a worldwide race to build the tallest
structure. The United States previously held the record with the 555-foot Washington
Monument, but then France built the 984-foot Eiffel Tower in 1889. By the early 20th
century, architects across America tried to set new records.
The Metropolitan Life Tower signaled a start to the race in 1909; the building rose 700
feet and 50 stories. The 57-story Woolworth Building followed in 1913, and the 71-story
Bank of Manhattan was completed in 1929. (Of course, since this was the Depression,
there was ironically little demand for office space!)
Competition then intensified within New York State. Three skyscrapers were underway
simultaneously: the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, and 40 Wall Street.
The Empire State Building’s rental manager, Hamilton Weber, described the architectural
We thought we would be the tallest at 80 stories. Then the
Chrysler went higher, so we lifted the Empire State to 85
stories, but only four feet taller than the Chrysler. Raskob
[the financer] was worried that Walter Chrysler would pull
a trick — like hiding a rod in the spire and then sticking it
up at the last minute.
The Empire State Building architects decided to affix something to the top of the building
for even more height. This led to a dirigible (blimp) docking station. However, the
docking station did not last long. The building itself created powerful updrafts that made
docking dangerous! The mooring devices are still in place, but the building’s current
height (1,453 feet) comes from a large broadcast antennae added in 1952.
The Empire State Building houses 85 stories of commercial and office space totaling
more than two million square feet. With 1,000 businesses inside, the building has its own
zip code! The top 16 stories comprise the art deco tower, with observatories located on
the 86th and 102nd floors. (High-powered binoculars are available for rent.) The
skyscraper has 72 elevators, 70 miles of piping, and 2.5 million feet of electrical wiring.
The entire building weighs an estimated 370,000 tons and cost $40 million to construct.
Colored floodlights were added to the building’s tower in 1964. These are used to mark
seasonal events like Christmas and tragedies like the World Trade Center attacks in 2001.
Following September 11, 2001, the floodlights were kept red, white, and blue for several
months. Blue lights were used on Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday and when he died. (This
was a reference to his nickname, Ol’ Blue Eyes.) Sports events are also represented by
lights; for example, a combination of orange, blue, and white signifies a New York
Knicks home game. The Empire State Building was bathed in a royal purple to honor the
Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. This was a sign of thanks from the New York
Mayor Michael Bloomberg after the UK supported the United States in the aftermath of
September 11th. The floodlights first celebrated a Muslim holiday in 2007 with green
lights for Eid ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.
When the Empire State Building opened on May 1, 1931, it was the tallest building in the
world at 1,250 feet high. Towering over the corner of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street,
it became an instant icon of New York City. The building remained the world’s tallest
until the World Trade Center’s North Tower was erected in 1972. The Sears Tower in
Chicago surpassed both in 1973. After the September 11th attacks in New York, the
Empire State Building once again became the tallest building in the state, and the second-
tallest in the country. The United Arab Emirates set the world record in 2007 while
building the Burj Dubai skyscraper.
Although “superskyscrapers” are now being constructed worldwide, the Empire State
Building made achievements that prompted the American Society of Civil Engineers to
name it one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.