Rise of the Empire State Building

By | April 12, 2019

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 02: The Empire State Building lights it up blue for World Autism Awareness Day on April 02, 2019 in New York City. Source: (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Autism Speaks)

When it was completed in 1931, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world, surpassing both the Chrysler Building and the Eiffel Tower. While it no longer holds that record, it still stands today as one of the most recognized buildings in the world. Part of its fame stems from its popularity as a meeting place for estranged lovers in movies and television. However, the building has a history of tragedy as well as romance.

In 1889, the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris with a height of 984 feet, inspiring the great skyscraper race of the twentieth century during which American architects attempted to top it. By 1929, the closest they had come was the 927-foot Bank of Manhattan Building. However, construction had already begun on the Chrysler Building which upon its completion in 1930 would surpass the Eiffel Tower by reaching a height of 1,046 feet. However, before the building was even completed, a competitor of the Chrysler Corporation, Jakob Raskob of General Motors, made up his mind to build an even taller one.

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Chrysler Building. Source: (wikipedia.org)

Raskob assembled a group of investors and they hired William F. Lamb of the architecture firm Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon, to design the building. With no access to the plans for the Chrysler Building, their goal was to make the building as tall as possible to hopefully outreach the competition. This was done by decreasing the floor size in correlation to the increase in the building’s height. The final touch which set it above the rest was a spire, added after Raskob viewed a scale model of the building and insisted that it needed a “hat.”