Eastern Side of Manhattan Island, New York City, 1946

Historical Context
The 102-story Empire State Building in New York City was the product of a competition between Walter Chrysler, of the Chrysler Corporation, and John Jakob Raskob, of General Motors, to see who could build the tallest skyscraper.  The Chrysler Building was completed first in 1930.  It stood 1,046 feet high, topping a skyscraper located at 40 Wall Street to become the tallest building in the world.  

Chrysler's claim to the tallest building was short-lived, however.  Before the Chrysler Building opened, Raskob broke ground for the Empire State Building.  Construction of the Empire State Building began on March 17, 1930.  Over ten million bricks, 200,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone, and 60,000 tons of steel were used in this towering building.  With over 3,000 workers on the project, however, the Empire State Building rose with amazing speed.  Four and one-half floors were framed each week.  The entire building took only one year and forty-five days to complete.  The official opening of the building took place May 1, 1931.

Standing 1,454 feet high from the ground to the top of the lightning rod, the Empire State Building held the record for the tallest building in the world for forty years.  From the observation deck on the 86th floor, you can see five states including New York on a clear day.  Originally, the building's high peak, or mast, was designed as a place where blimps could tie up to the building. However, the wind at this height made such a feat difficult, and the idea was abandoned after several failed attempts.  Now the mast is the base of a television tower on top of the building.

Essential Question
How is architecture influenced by geography and economy?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain how geography and economy influenced the development of this area.
[click to enlarge]
Stuyvesant Town, N.Y. (Actually Manhattan Island), New York State Archives, NYSA_B1598-99_100327
Document Description
The Empire State Building and environs in Manhattan, seen from the Lower East Side in New York City, May 13, 1946.
  1. Can you identify which building in Manhattan is the Empire State Building?
  2. Is any other building close in size?
  3. How does New York City look different today?
  4. William Lamb, the architect who designed the building, based his design on an object you probably use every day in school. From looking at the photograph, what do you think that object was?
  5. Why was it decided to stop using the mast as a place for blimps to tie up?
  6. For what purpose is the top of the Empire State Building used today?
  7. What kind of businesses were the Chrysler Corporation and General Motors?
  8. Are these companies still in business today?
  9. Why would the founder of the Chrysler Corporation and an executive from General Motors want to build skyscrapers?
  10. Which person — Walter Chrysler or John Jakob Raskob — won the competition for the tallest building in the world?
  11. The Empire State Building was constructed just as the Great Depression began in the United States. How do you think the Great Depression affected the construction of skyscrapers?
Historical Challenge
What did the Twin Towers and the Empire State Building have in common, other than that they held the record for the world's tallest building? Which New York governor was involved in the construction of the Empire State Building?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: The Empire State Building has 6,500 windows. If each floor had the same number of windows, how many windows would be on each story?
Math: How many months did it take to construct the Empire State Building? How many weeks? Calculate how many floors were constructed per week How does this number compare to the number given in the historical background of how fast the framework was erected? Why is there a difference in the two numbers?
Math: The Empire State Building weighs a total of 365,000 tons. How many pounds does it weigh?

Science: The foundation of the Empire State Building extends 55 feet below ground. Why is such a deep foundation necessary?
English Language Arts: Create a real estate advertisement selling the Empire State Building. What is the selling point?
  1. Doherty, Craig A., et al. The Empire State Building. Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1998. ISBN: 1567111165
  2. Hine, Lewis Wickes. Men at Work: Photographic Studies of Modern Men and Machines. 2nd enl. ed. Dover Publications, 1977. ISBN: 0486234754
  3. Holland, Gini. The Empire State Building. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1998. ISBN: 0817249192
  4. Hopkinson, Deborah, and James Ransone. Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2006. ISBN: 0375936106, 0375836101
  5. Kimmel, Elizabeth Cody. The Top Job. New York: Dutton Children's Books, 2007. ISBN: 0525477896.
  6. Kirk, Connie Ann. Sky Dancers. New York: Lee & Low Books, 2004. ISBN: 1584301627
  7. Macaulay, David. Unbuilding. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. ISBN: 0395294576
  8. Mann, Elizabeth. Empire State Building. New York: Mikaya Press, 2003. ISBN: 1931414068.