Empire State Building Facts
You can’t hear about New York City without imagining the Empire State Building standing tall in the background. A trip to New York City isn’t complete unless you visit this iconic landmark! Yet, even one of the world’s most famous buildings has its own set of secrets. Today, we uncover those little-known Empire State Building Facts for you, one by one.
Beginning with, do you know that the original blueprint of the Empire State Building, is located in the Observatory Experience? That’s the name of a museum inside the Empire State Building. In the museum, is a gallery of multiple hands-on exhibitions that highlight the unique significance and history of the different parts of the famous building.
John Jakob Raskob, a businessman who came up with the overall plan for the Empire State Building, reportedly had only one order for his architects. It was to build as high as they could without the building falling over. The builders and designers did not disappoint. The Empire State Building was finished ahead of schedule and under budget. Unfortunately, it came at a tragic cost: at least five workers were killed during construction.
On a more positive note, in the ’80s, a thrill-seeking duo made parachuting off the observation deck of the Empire State Building an item on their bucket list! In April 1986, British daredevils Alastair Boyd and Michael McCarthy hid parachutes beneath their coats, and purchased tickets to the Empire State Building. They then jumped from the 86th story observation deck. The pair safely landed on 33rd Street, more than 1,000 feet below. Authorities immediately caught McCarthy. Boyd got in a cab and fled. However, he quickly turned himself in.
Like what you read? Learn more about this iconic skyscraper, check out our collection of 40 Empire State Building facts.
- Without its antenna, the Empire State Building stands 380 meters high.
- Including its antenna, the Empire State Building stands 443 meters high.
- The Empire State Building held the title of the World’s Tallest Skyscraper from 1931 to 1970, until construction was completed on the World Trade Center.
- Following the devastating events of 9/11, the Empire State Building became New York’s tallest skyscraper until 2012, when the incomplete One World Trade Center surpassed its height.
- The Empire State Building has a total of 102 floors.
- The Astor family owned the site of the Empire State Building in the 19th century.
- In 1893, they built the Waldorf Hotel on the site.
- Bethlehem Engineering Corporation bought the site and building in 1928 for $15 million.
- Construction work on the Empire State Building began on January 22, 1930.
- Work on the skyscraper’s steel frame finished on September 19 of that same year.
- Work on the skyscraper’s exterior finished by mid-November, also in that same year.
- The Empire State Building officially opened its doors to the public on May 1, 1931.
- The skyscraper’s lobby became a city landmark on May 19, 1981.
- In 1986, the Empire State Building received the distinction of a National Historic Landmark.
- The skyscraper’s public areas received a $550 million renovation in 2009.
- The Great Depression meant that over 75% of the Empire State Building’s rooms went unoccupied in the 1930s.
- This led New Yorkers to call it the Empty State Building.
- They also called it Smith’s Folly, after its owner, Al Smith.
- The building’s owners kept all lights on in the 1930s to give an impression of occupancy.
- Jack Brod kept his leased space in the skyscraper from 1931 until his death in 2008.
The Empire State Building stands in Manhattan.
Specifically, the skyscraper stands in South Midtown, on the west side of Fifth Avenue, between 33rd Street to the south, and 34th Street to the north. The building’s entrances also depend on whether tenants or visitors want to enter the building. Tenants use entrances leading to the Art Deco lobby at 350 Fifth Avenue. Visitors previously used entrances leading to the Fifth Avenue lobby, but from 2018 onward, use an entrance at 20 West 34th Street. The skyscraper also stands as one of 43 buildings in New York with its own ZIP code, 10118.
Other iconic buildings stand near the Empire State Building.
Macy’s Herald Square, the biggest department store in the USA, stands at Herald Square along Sixth Avenue and 34th Street. Koreatown is also nearby, along 32nd Street between Madison and Sixth Avenue. There’s also Penn Station and Madison Square Gardens, along Seventh Avenue between 32nd and 34th streets. 28th Street’s Flower District also stands nearby, between Sixth and Seventh Avenue.
Plans for the skyscraper experienced several revisions before construction began.
The original plan called for a building only 165 meters high, but the first revision changed that to 198 meters. The plan changed again, this time to 264 meters, before another revision added 5 more floors and an observation deck at a height of 320 meters. The final revision in December 1929 added a final 129 meters to the building with a crown and antenna. Between all the various revisions, records point to 15 various blueprints before a final version was approved for construction.
Its design also accommodated specific building requirements.
Specifically, the 1916 Zoning Resolution, which required that buildings not completely block out the surrounding sunlight, and allow some of it to reach the streets below. This led to the Empire State Building’s design of having steadily narrower upper levels. The building first narrows at the 21st Floor, then again at the 25th, 30th, 72nd, 81st, and finally, the 85th Floor.
Other New York buildings also competed at the time to become the world’s tallest building.
The 1920s saw the construction of 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building, standing at 283 and 319 meters tall, respectively. In fact, the original owners of the Empire State Building, John Raskob, and Al Smith, openly wanted to build a skyscraper taller than the Chrysler Building.
Many of the revisions to the proposed designs for their skyscraper resulted from the owners wanting to build and own the tallest building in the world. In the end, though, they succeeded, with the Empire State Building holding that title for decades to come.
Construction on the Empire State Building began at the start of the Great Depression.
The Wall Street Crash took place on October 24, 1929, beginning the decade-long Great Depression. Normally you’d expect that plans for something as expensive as a skyscraper to get canceled with all the economic difficulties at the time, but builders Raskob and Smith decided to continue. They even managed to get a $27.5 million loan from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to get construction started. Raskob and Smith reasoned that actually building their planned skyscraper would at least get them some of their money back whereas canceling it would cost them all the money they put into it from the start.
Construction workers enjoyed special accommodations at the site.
They set up cafes and concession stands on 5 floors so workers didn’t need to go back down to the ground to get something to eat. They also laid down temporary water lines, again, so the workers won’t need to go back down to get clean drinking water. This came in addition to other accommodations to get construction materials up to the work levels. Those included a small railway line and construction elevators that took the materials up straight from basement storage.
Work on the incomplete Empire State Building became an icon for the 1930s.
American sociologist and photographer Lewis Hine took many pictures of men at the construction site. In many cases, he didn’t have them pose for his pictures, instead photographing them while they worked at their jobs.
At one point, he even climbed out onto the incomplete steel frame, and took pictures while hanging from a steel cable. Hine’s pictures became widely distributed by the media, and captured the public imagination. His colleagues even described him as taking what could have provided a source of corporate criticism, and then turning them into art.
The Empire State Building was featured in King Kong soon after construction finished.
The original King Kong film premiered in 1933, just two years after construction finished at the Empire State Building. It not only started a decades-long franchise, but also pushed the iconic status of the skyscraper even further. In particular, King Kong climbing up the Empire State Building to roar over the New York skyline became one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history.
Tourism became a major source of income for the skyscraper early on.
In fact, it became the only stable source of income for the skyscraper until the 1950s. The Great Depression resulted in low demand for office space, leading to most of the Empire State Building staying unused for decades. In contrast, tourists flocked to the building, drawn by its status as the world’s tallest building. An aggressive marketing campaign by its owners also helped draw tourists in.
In 1931 alone, an estimated one million tourists visited the Empire State Building, paying a dollar each to access the observation deck. By 1936, crowds had become a common sight on the observation decks, so much so that refreshment stands had opened to accommodate them.
The owners later added a motion simulator to the skyscraper in 1994.
They placed the simulator on the second floor, as an added experience to visiting the observation deck. It featured a 25-minute cinematic presentation, along with an 8-minute simulation.
The original program ran from 1994 to 2001, hosted by James Doohan from Star Trek. It featured a plot where Doohan’s character had to pilot a plane through bad weather and avoid hitting the Empire State Building.
After the 9/11 attacks, though, the owners shut the simulation down to avoid unfortunate comparisons with 9/11. In 2002, though, they reopened it, this time with an updated program hosted by Kevin Bacon. It again, featured a plane ride gone wrong, but had more informative themes, specifically about 9/11.
The skyscraper’s interior displays several pieces of artwork.
The lobbies originally featured Art Deco murals by Leif Neandross. They were based on the sky and Machine Age themes. In the 1960s, damage to the originals led to their replacement and reproduction. The North Corridor also saw the addition in 1963 of eight illuminated panels by artists Roy Sparkia and Renee Nemorov. These additions came as part of the building’s contributions to the 1964 World Fair.
Other additions included paintings by Kysa Johnson on the building concourse. Unfortunately, damage caused by negligence to her paintings eventually led to Johnson suing the owners in 2014.
The exterior also has an artistic design.
Each lobby doorway has a mural on top celebrating one of three industries that contributed to the building’s construction. Those include electricity, heating, and masonry. The building exterior also features 5,700 cubic meters of Indiana limestone, giving the skyscraper a faintly golden appearance.
The skyscraper’s plans originally included a dock for airships.
Airplane travel didn’t exist during the 1920s when they designed the Empire State Building. Nor did it exist in the 1930s, when they built the Empire State Building. That said, people could travel by air, using airships or zeppelins. They even thought that airships, not airplanes, would become the future of world travel.
As part of that expectation, they designed the Empire State Building’s crown to double as a dock for airships. Even today, the floors under the crown still have features originally meant to cater to passengers. That said, as construction finished, they realized the powerful winds above a city made it too dangerous to use the skyscraper as a dock. A test run by the US Navy airship proved it when an attempted docking nearly resulted in a disaster. This led to the abandonment of the plan to dock airships at the skyscraper.
Donald Trump bought the land the Empire State Building stands on in 1994.
He did so in partnership with Japanese hotelier Hideki Yokoi, who first bought the land in 1991. Donald Trump and Yokoi then planned to buy the skyscraper and renovate it, only to discover renovations already underway. This led Trump to sue the building’s owners, Hemsley and Malkin, in 1995. The lawsuit failed, after which Hemsely and Malkin countersued Trump. This led to a series of on-and-off lawsuits over the following years. Today, though, Malkin’s Empire State Realty Trust continues to own the skyscraper.
The New York Daily News played a prank on the skyscraper in 2008.
They did so under the names of Fay Wray, the deceased actress who starred in the 1933 King Kong film, as well as notorious, and also deceased robber, Willie Sutton. The newspaper company did so to prove how easy it had become in New York to commit fraud.
Even more so, as apparently New York City property clerks had no obligation to confirm submitted information and instead accepted them at face value. New York Daily News then returned the deed to the then-owners, Empire State Land Associates.
The Empire State Building had the most elevators of any building at the time of its construction.
There were 66 elevators initially, moving at speeds of up to 366 meters per minute. That number later grew to 73, after a series of renovations over the decades. Of the original 66 elevators, four were express elevators directly connecting the ground floor with the 80th floor, with several stops in between.
Another 60 elevators linked the floors above with the intermediate landings. One elevator directly links the observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors. It also allows access for employees to access the service levels between the 87th and 101st floors. Employees also had another eight elevators for use to transport cargo between floors.
The skyscraper also doubles as a broadcast tower.
Both NBC and RCA began broadcasting from the Empire State Building in December 1931. They also set up a radio research laboratory on the 85th Floor, with RCA pioneering FM radio in 1934 under Edwin Armstrong.
RCA also began broadcasting television signals from the Empire State Building in 1941. The skyscraper’s broadcasting equipment received major upgrades in 1950, and again in 1965. Completion of the World Trade Center in 1970 reduced the Empire State Building’s broadcasting abilities, however.
The World Trade Center’s greater height actually interfered with the signals coming from the Empire State Building, leading broadcasters to transfer to the taller skyscraper. After 9/11, though, broadcasters returned to the Empire State Building.
The Empire State Building also has a unique set of external lighting.
The original design featured spotlights on the highest floors, as part of the plan to use the skyscraper as an airship dock. Even after the plan’s abandonment, the spotlights stayed, and in fact, found their use to celebrate presidential elections.
The owners replaced the spotlights in 1956 and added additional ones in 1964 for that year’s World Fair. In 1976, the owners replaced all 1000 external incandescent lights with 204 metal-halide lights. They shone just as bright while saving on electricity and maintenance costs. They could also shine in nine different colors, which the building’s owners used to add variety to celebratory light shows. For example, after 9/11, the Empire State Building glowed the colors of the American flag in memory of the attack. In 2012, the owners replaced all 204 metal-halide lights with 1,200 LED lights. This again saved electricity and increased the available colors to 16 million.
It also hosts an annual racing event.
People call it the Empire State Building Run-Up, first held in 1978. The race has two categories, one for runners using the skyscraper’s steps, and another for climbers scaling the outer wall. The race starts from the ground level, and ends on the 86th floor’s observation deck. Today, the record time belongs to Australian cyclist Paul Crake, who scaled the outer wall in nine minutes and 33 seconds in 2003.