Back to Top

c. 1930-1931

Empire State vertigo

Nearly 100 years ago, it took just over 400 days to construct the tallest building in the world

A workman sweeping the highest sidewalk in the world, the 81st story of the Empire State Building, the world's tallest building, to the top of which the greatest dirigible 'Los Angeles' will attempt to moor, New York, New York, early 1930s. This photo was made 1,248 feet above street level. (Photo by Adam Glickman/Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Question – how many construction workers does it take to build an Empire State Building? Answer – 3,500.  And it took them just over 400 days to do it.

With one floor being built per 24 hours during the first phase, the daily drop-off to the site was colossal – up to 200 trucks deposited 16,000 tiles, 5,000 cement bags, 450 cubic yards of sand and 300 bags of lime, each and every day.

The order for steel – just shy of 58,000 tonnes – was the largest ever made.

For the workers, cafes were opened and taps were installed on the incomplete floors so they need not descend to the ground.

A valid email is required

Those workers were chiefly Italian and Irish immigrants, plus a large minority of Mohawks – the “Iron Walkers”-  from the Kahnawake reservation near Montreal. 

Initially involved in high-level construction back in 1886, when a group of Mohawk men were employed to build a bridge over the St. Lawrence River on Mohawk territory, many Mohawks moved to New York City in the first years of the Twentieth Century, and worked on multiple significant high-rise construction sites in Manhattan.

The final rivet placed was made of solid gold – but then it could afford to be gold. The entire project had cost $40 million – a clear $20 million under budget.

Official records state that only five men died on the Empire State site, though the New York Times reported 14 deaths. While there is no reason to question this, the fact that it was not dramatically higher seems extraordinary when looking at these photographs.

Just 23 weeks after construction began, the entire steel structure of the Empire State Building was in place.

The final rivet placed was made of solid gold – but then it could afford to be gold.  The entire project had cost $40 million – a clear $20 million under budget.

1930
An aerial photo of the Empire State Building under construction.
Bettmann / Corbis
1930
A workman sweeping the 81st story of the Empire State Building.
Underwood Archives / Getty Images
1930
Two builders resting during the construction of the Empire State Building.
SSPL / Getty Images
1930
Riveters at work a quarter of a mile above the pavement
SSPL / Getty Images
1930
A steel worker balances on a girder. The Chrysler Building can be seen in the background.
Keystone / Getty Images
1930
Window washers at work on the Empire State Building. There are 6400 windows on the building, and each workers average 76 panes per day.
Soibelman Syndicate/Visual Studies Workshop / Getty Images
1930
Construction workers silhouetted against the Manhattan sky
Universal History Archive / Getty images
1930
Carl Russell waves to his co-workers on the structural work of the 88th floor
Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images
1930
Steel workers arranging the steel frame
Bettmann / Corbis
1930
A worker appears almost to lose his balance
Bettmann / Corbis
1930
Workers hoist the Stars And Stripes
Keystone-France / Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
1930
Acrobats perform on a ledge of the Empire State Building
Bettmann / Corbis

Watch this

Does using FaceApp put your privacy at risk?

see more from
More
>