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Empire State Building

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[edit] Construction History

[edit] The People Involved

The Great as the called him " Tower Bulider" was on his was. Raskob then named Alfred E. Smith head of the new corporation in 1929. Smith had previously served four consecutive terms as the New York State governor and had just finished running for the U.S. presidency the year previous. He lost to Herbert Hoover.

However, neither Raskob nor Smith had any previous experience in construction or architecture. So, William Lamb and his architectural firm, Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, were hired to develop a design for the building. Raskob asked that the design be modeled after “thick pencils favored by very young children,” asking Lamb, “How big can you build it so it won’t fall down?”[1]

It was clear that height was of the utmost importance, especially since they were competing with the Chrysler Building, which was expected to be 925 feet (282 m) tall. Empire State Inc. announced that its building would reach 1,000 feet (305 m). Chrysler Building contractors countered the announcement by attaching a thin metal spire extending the building’s height to 1,048 feet (319.4 m). Then Empire State Inc. decided to add another five floors extending its height to 1,050 feet (320 m). Eventually Empire State Inc. would also add a tower on top of the roof making the total height 1,250 feet (381 m).[2]

Besides height, the other essential factor for the building for Raskob was speed in construction. He and Alfred Smith couldn’t wait to get tenants into the building so they could start collecting rent. They just needed to hire a construction contractor, and one company stood out from the rest. The Starrett Bros. & Eken construction company had just “shattered all speed records on their work on the Bank of Manhattan.”[3] They were deemed perfect for the job.

Smith asked the Starrett Bros. what equipment they owned, eager for them to start; and while Paul Starrett understood that most other companies vying for the job would say that they already had “a wonderful lot of equipment,” he responded they had nothing. “Not even a pick and shovel,” he said.

“Gentlemen, this building of yours is going to represent unusual problems. Ordinary building equipment won't be worth a damn on it. We'll buy new stuff, fitted for the job, and at the end sell it and credit you with the difference. That's what we do on every big project. It costs less than renting secondhand stuff, and it's more efficient,” Starrett said.[4]
Empire State Building shining in the distance

[edit] Demolition, Excavation, and Foundation

Still, before any construction, or even excavation, could begin, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel occupying the construction site had to be demolished. John Raskob had purchased the site for approximately $16 million in preparation of demolishing it and building his monumental building.[5]

On October 29, 1929, Alfred Smith held a press conference on the roof of the Waldorf-Astoria, pulling apart the first part of the building. Over the next five months crews worked day and night demolishing the hotel. After word spread that the hotel was being torn down, thousands of people wrote requests for mementos from the buildings. One man wanted iron railing fence, a couple requested the key from the room they occupied on their honeymoon, while others wanted the flagpole, stained-glass windows, fireplaces, light fixtures, bricks, etc. So in response, the hotel management held an auction to sell many of the items they felt would be in demand.[6]

Excavation on the site began before the hotel was completely torn apart. On January 22, 1930 they began digging 55-feet (16.8 m) down to the pure granite bedrock beneath the site.[7] The bedrock underneath Manhattan was ideal for tall, heavy buildings. The granite was considered “nature’s sturdiest structural support.”[8]

They excavated much of the site with the use of explosives. However, since the site was in the middle of downtown New York they covered the explosions with heavy mats of woven steel, which muffled the noise and ensured that rubble did not fly everywhere. They also utilized steam shovels, drills, and jackhammers to excavate.

The excavated material was loaded onto trucks, which delivered it to barges on the East River and was dumped into the Atlantic Ocean, 20 miles (32 km) off shore. In total, 28,259 truck trips were made.[9]

The base of the building consists of two square acres (0.33 ha2) of solid concrete, 55 feet (17 m) below street level.

[edit] Forest of Steel

Construction on the Empire State Building began on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1930. A forest of giant steel columns rose from the ground. They rested on concrete bases called piers and were sunk deep into the bedrock below. The first columns were massive, standing 16 feet (4.9 m) tall and weighing 44 tons, each one required to support 5,000 tons of skyscraper.[10] Then hundreds of smaller horizontal beams attached to the columns to form a three-dimensional grid.

The steel was made in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Each enormous 44-ton beam was fashioned to rigid specifications and then loaded onto railway cars to be transported 400 miles to the center of Manhattan.[11] It took about three days for the trip by train, barge, and truck. The delivery time had to be exact because there was no storage space on site, so as soon as the piece arrived it was hoisted in to place. Each piece arrived marked to show its precise destination in the building’s construction. Using a series of hoists, pulleys, or derricks the piece would be distributed throughout the site.

The piece was set in place by a team of four men, known as a riveting crew. The “heater” was responsible for heating up the mushroom-shaped steel rivets until they were soft and glowing red. He would then remove the rivet from the fire with a set of tongs and toss it to the “catcher” who would catch it in a bucket. The catcher would grab the rivet from the bucket with his own set of tongs and place it through the holes in the beams to join them together. The “bucker-up” would press a “dolly bar” against the round head of the rivet while the “riveter” used an air hammer against the stem end of the rivet, slamming it into a mushroom shape. As the rivet cooled and hardened it fused with the steel surrounding it. Some crews could place one rivet every minute.[12]

The New Yorker described these high steel workers:

“Like little spiders they toiled, spinning a fabric of steel against the sky. Crawling, climbing, swinging, swooping – weaving a web that was to stretch farther heavenward than the ancient Tower of Babel, or than all the older towers of the modern Babel.”[13]

After the columns and beams were sealed, concrete was poured to create a strong, smooth surface for the flooring. The concrete also protected the steel structure from fire, which would weaken the framework and endanger the building.

As each consecutive floor was constructed, at a rate of about 4.5 floors per week, rail tracks were laid to help transport materials safely.[14] Rail cars, which could hold eight times more than a wheelbarrow, would be pushed by hand throughout the site.[15]

In just 6 months the building had been constructed to the 86th floor. About 60,000 tons of steel were brought in from Pennsylvania for its construction.

“When we were in full swing going up the main tower, things clicked with such precision that once we erected fourteen and a half floors in ten working days - steel, concrete, stone and all. We always thought of it as a parade in which each marcher kept pace and the parade marched out of the top of the building, still in perfect step. Sometimes we thought of it as a great assembly line - only the assembly line did the moving; the finished product stayed in place,” said Richmond Shreve, of the Shreve, Lamb and Harmon architecture firm.[16]

[edit] Curtain Wall

Looking up at the Empire State Building
The curtain façade designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon used pale Indiana limestone, shiny nickel-steel strips called mullions, and aluminum panels known as spandrels. Each piece was prefabricated for simple attachment.

Behind the curtain wall, an inner brick wall was laid. Since the bricks would be hidden, there was no need to pay attention to appearance, but simply put it together as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, having limited space on site for storage, they could not simply dump ten million bricks in the street waiting for their use, as was customary for most construction projects. So the Starrett Bros. had trucks dump the bricks down a chute into the building’s basement, which led to a hopper to control their release. When the bricks were needed they would be loaded into carts and hoisted to the appropriate floor.

The Indiana limestone was then placed overtop of the brick. The aluminum spandrels were laid on top of the limestone, and the red-framed windows sat atop the spandrels. Lastly the silvery mullions were placed to cover the rough edges of the limestone, spandrels, and windows.

“He [designer William Lamb] decided that the columns of stone would be easier to put up if they were separated from the windows with metal strips. The strips covered the stone’s edges, which meant the stone could be rough-cut at the quarry and then heaved into place without any final cutting or fitting.”[17]

The façade used 200,000 cubic feet (6,000 m3) of Indiana limestone and granite[18], 6,500 windows,[19] and 730 tons of aluminum and stainless steel molding[20].

[edit] Mooring Mast

The tower constructed on top of the Empire State Building was designed with a mooring mast for dirigible (large air blimps) docking. Alfred Smith believed that the dirigible would be the next popular form of transportation bringing in large amounts of tourists. He saw tourists reaching the dock at the peak of the building, tying to the mooring mast, disembarking and reaching the Manhattan sidewalks in just 10 minutes.

However, the mooring mast failed in nearly every possible way.

It was first tested in September 1931. Smith assembled a small crowd on the 102nd floor on a windy day to witness newspapers being delivered by dirigible. The wind caused havoc on the dirigible, the pilot felt he could not safely dock the airship, but was confident he could still deliver the papers. He dangled a rope that held the newspapers.

A worker reached out for the rope yelling “Hold my legs, somebody, in case I get pulled.”[21] John Raskob held the workers legs, the rope was cut and the papers were handed to Alfred Smith.

A couple more tests were done, but after the crash of the Hindenburg in 1937, people were convinced that dirigibles had no place flying over the Empire State Building.[22] The mooring mast was officially put to rest.

[edit] Elevators & Observation Decks

The Otis Elevator Co. was responsible for installing 73 elevators in the building, including service elevators. Some of them were capable of speeds of 1,200 feet (366 m) per minute, but building regulations limited them to 700 feet (213 m) per minute. However, shortly after the building opened the regulations were raised to 1,200 feet (366 m). This meant that passengers could travel from the first floor to the top floor in about 1 minute.

An observation deck was constructed on the building’s 86th floor and another on the 102nd floor. The higher deck is completely enclosed and much smaller than the lower deck. In the first year they made approximately $2 million from people wishing to visit the decks.

[edit] Cutting the Tape on the “Empty State Building”

Within 20 months from the first signed contracts with the architects in September 1929, the Empire State Building was designed, engineered, constructed, and made ready for tenants.[23]

In total the construction took seven million man-hours, or one year and 45 days including Sundays and holidays.[24] During peak periods there were as many as 3,500 workers doing 60 different jobs.[25]

Alfred Smith’s grandchildren cut the ribbon for the grand opening on May 1, 1931. Later that evening President Herbert Hoover pressed a button in Washington, D.C., to light the Empire State Building, officially opening it for business. (The button he pushed was merely a symbol of him opening the building. The light was actually powered by a switch inside the building.)

The building was finally open for tenants, but hardly any came. In fact, most of the building remained empty. The Great Depression of the early 1930s enormously diminished the demand for residency within the building, resulting in the building being nicknamed “the Empty State Building.”[26]

[edit] Equipment Used

[edit] Refurbishment/Recent Projects/Renovations

On Saturday, July 28, 1945 a B-25 Mitchell bomber airplane crashed into the Empire State Building. It hit the north side of the building between the 79th and 80th floors, which housed the National Catholic Welfare Council. Thirteen people were killed in the accident, including the three inside of the airplane.[27] Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith Jr. piloted the plane.

The resulting fire took 40 minutes to extinguish. It caused $1 million in damages, but did not affect the structural integrity of the building. The Empire State Building reopened two days later, on Monday, July 30, 1945.

[edit] Unique Facts

  • Height at the 86th floor: 1,050 feet
  • Height at the top of the mooring mast: 1,250 feet
  • Height at the top of the television antennae: 1,472 feet
  • Area of the ground floor: 83,890 square feet
  • Area at the 30th floor setback: 24,924 square feet
  • Entire floor area: 2,768,591 square feet
  • The site cost $16 million
  • Cost of construction of the building: $24,718,000
  • Total cost of project including property: $40,948,900
  • The project was completed $5 million under budget
  • Construction took 7 million man-hours, or 1 year and 45 days, including Sundays and holidays
  • Completed a month and a half ahead of schedule
  • Number of steps: 1,860
  • The building weighs approximately 370,000 tons
  • Number of elevators: 73
  • Number of windows: 6,500
  • Time required for demolition of Waldorf-Astoria: 5 months
  • Time required for raising steel to 86th floor: 6 months
  • Time from demolition ceremony to opening ceremony: 19 months
  • Most workers on the job at one time: 3,500
  • Workers killed on the job: 6
  • 60,000 tons of steel frame used on construction
  • Constructed an average 4.5 floors per week
  • It took 340 men to install elevators in 7 miles of shafts


  • 10 million bricks
  • 200,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone and granite
  • 730 tons of aluminum and stainless steel molding
  • 50 miles of radiator pipe
  • 70 miles of water pipe
  • 2.5 million feet of electrical wire
  • 1,060 miles of telephone cable
  • 7,450 tons of refrigeration equipment
  • 3,194,547 light bulbs
  • 2,500 toilets and sinks
  • 10,000 tons of plaster
  • 328,000 square feet of marble


  • Some steelworkers made as much as $200 a month
  • Riveters made $15 a day

[edit] References

  1. History Channel. Modern Marvels: The Empire State Building, 2007
  2. Mann, Elizabeth. Empire State Building, 2003
  3. Tauranac, John. The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark. New York: Scribner, 1995
  4. Tauranac, John. The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark. New York: Scribner, 1995
  5. Rosenberg, Jennifer.The Empire State Building., 2008-09-23.
  6. Tauranac, John. The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark. New York: Scribner, 1995
  7. History Channel. Modern Marvels: The Empire State Building, 2007
  8. History Channel. Modern Marvels: The Empire State Building, 2007
  9. Mann, Elizabeth. Empire State Building, 2003
  10. Mann, Elizabeth. Empire State Building, 2003
  11. History Channel. Modern Marvels: The Empire State Building, 2007
  12. Mann, Elizabeth. Empire State Building, 2003
  13. Tauranac, John. The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark. New York: Scribner, 1995
  14. Official Empire State Building website
  15. Rosenberg, Jennifer.The Empire State Building., 2008-09-23.
  16. Tauranac, John. The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark. New York: Scribner, 1995
  17. Official Empire State Building website
  18. Empire State Building, 2008-09-23.
  19. Mann, Elizabeth. Empire State Building, 2003
  20. History Channel. Modern Marvels: The Empire State Building, 2007
  21. Mann, Elizabeth. Empire State Building, 2003
  22. History Channel. Modern Marvels: The Empire State Building, 2007
  23. The Empire State Building, 2008-09-23.
  24. Great Buildings Online Lewis Wickes Hine: The Construction of the Empire State Building, 2008-09-23.
  25. Mann, Elizabeth. Empire State Building, 2003
  26. Mann, Elizabeth. Empire State Building, 2003
  27. History Channel. Modern Marvels: The Empire State Building, 2007

[edit] External Links