I challenge you to find a person on earth who has not seen a picture of the Empire State Building. It is a classic symbol not only of the great urban metropolis of New York City but also of the United States. One of the great engineering marvels of America, towering above a city full of architectural treasures.
There is however a part of the Empire State Building’s history which may not be familiar to you. It was conceived during boom times but had to be constructed against the backdrop of global economic collapse. It had to compete against two other rivals for the title of Tallest Building in the World. This is the true story of how the Empire State Building was constructed during the cutthroat New York Skyscraper Races of the Great Depression.
Where the Great Depression Started
Although the vast majority of people alive today did not see the devastation with their own eyes, the tragic imagery of the Great Depression is forever burned onto our collective conscience. The voracious hunger of the Dust Bowl as it devoured the once verdant farms of the bread basket. The endless flood of desperate people fleeing to the West Coast. Millions of people hungry and homeless on the streets of America. Few moments in history so perfectly define the word bleak.
Of the many stories one can tell of that economic disaster, New York is home to one most infamous chapter. For it was here on October 24, 1929 that the Great Depression was born. On Black Thursday, the stock market crashed in New York City and the whole world plunged into financial chaos. Nothing would get better for years to come.
Imagine if you were a New Yorker in 1929. What would you have thought watching huge crowds gather outside the stock exchange? Would you have understood the dire events that were unfolding? In less than a year, you would be living through the painful repercussions of that October day. It might seem strange to say, but the Empire State Building is a child of the Great Depression. While everything else was falling apart, it was just starting to climb upwards.
The Empire State Building Enters the Race
The start of one of the worst economic catastrophes the modern world had ever seen may seem like a less than idea time to try and build a skyscraper. However, the owners of the Empire State Building couldn’t let something as insignificant as a financial apocalypse stand in their way. They were involved in something far more important, a race to construct the tallest building in the world.
In the early 20th century, New York was defining itself on the world’s stage as the city of skyscrapers. Architecture, engineering, and construction skills were all being pushed to their limits to see how high a building could rise. Even as work started on the Empire State Building, rival Manhattan projects were already underway. Both the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building and the Chrysler Building were attempting to steal the world’s tallest title for themselves.
The Bank of Manhattan Trust Building was the first to finish and proclaimed itself tallest in April of 1930. The victory however was to be short and bitter. Less than a month later, the Chrysler Building opened and used the technically of spire height to claim skyscraper supremacy for themselves. While they patted themselves on the back, construction continued on the Empire State Building. The Chrysler Building would lose its throne after only a meager 11 months.
The Tallest Building in the World
On May 1, 1931, the Empire State Building opened and became the Tallest Building in the World. It reigned as King of the Skyscrapers for 40 years. By winning the skyscraper race, the Empire State Building became a legend. It may no longer be the tallest, but few buildings on earth are as famous.
During incredibly bleak and dire times, it rose to an unimaginable height. For nearly 90 years, it has been the iconic symbol of New York City. For millions of tourists, no trip to the Big Apple is complete without visiting the Empire State Building. The next time you visit the art-deco lobby and ride the elevator to the Observation Deck on the 86th floor, reflect on the amazing circumstances that gave birth to this skyscraper.
About DIY Travelers
DIY Travelers is the real life travel triumphs and tragedies of blogger Giuseppe Macchiaverna. A regular guy giving world travel a try. You can follow his escapades across social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Please let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.