An Empire Dedication for New York City - 5/1/1931

US History |


Today marks a grand day in history, for it was on this day in 1931, that President Herbert Hoover dedicated New York City’s Empire State Building. The unique aspect of this dedication, at least in the public’s eye, is President Hoover pressed a button from the Oval Office in the White House and that officially turned on the lights of the building to symbolize it was open for business. What the common New Yorker (or U.S. American for that matter) didn’t know, was that there was a man who stood inside of the Empire State Building and turned the lights on at the exact same moment Hoover pushed the button. A clear-cut case of the phrase, “a little white lie never hurt anyone.”

The massive size of the building (1,454 feet tall to the tip) is all thanks to a friendly rivalry between two motor vehicle moguls. Walter Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation and John Jakob Raskob of General Motors made a wager amongst each other to see who could erect the taller building. Chrysler had a leg-up in the competition, for he had already begun constructing the famed Chrysler Building, which finished at 1,046 feet tall in midtown Manhattan. However not wanting to be beat in his own game, Raskob got together a team of well-known investors, one of them being the former Governor of New York, Alfred E. Smith. The mega-team chose the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon Associates to design and construct the building.

The design of the building was rumored to be modeled after the shape of a pencil. And the process was also quite builder-friendly: The whole building was finished under budget, but still costing $40 million, and it was constructed in just over a year. Amid the stages of building, the frame grew four-and-a-half stories per week. Once the building was complete the Empire State Building had an astonishing 102 stories, and was officially the world’s tallest skyscraper. In essence, Chrysler lost. All of this construction happened during the Depression-era, which actually came a good time for New York’s working class. The construction of the building employed approximately 3,400 workers daily, and on top of that the workers were paid quite well for their services. 

From this colossal construction gave the city of New York a grand sense a pride, having been depleted of resources due to the Great Depression and many of the city’s workers were unemployed or severely underpaid. But what goes up must come down, some say. In 1972, the Empire State Building had to relinquish its title as the tallest building in the world to its neighbor the World Trade Center. But even this building was only the tallest in the world for one short year. Today, the tallest building can be found in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa tower which stands at 2,717 feet. And it is almost a certainty that there will be a new skyscraper to snag the record sooner rather than later. 

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