Built during the Great Depression and originally designed as a symbol of one particular company's financial power, the Empire State Building has become more a symbol of American strength and fortitude during difficult times, and remains one of Manhattan's most popular tourist attractions, often attracting upwards of 10,000-15,000 visitors or more each day.
The Empire State Building was built in 1930 and was immediately recognized as the tallest building in the world. Its construction was ordered by John Jakob Raskob, the founder of General Motors, in response to the building of the Chrysler Building by arch-rival, Walter Chrysler. Raskob wished to erect a structure that would dwarf Chrysler's attractive Art Deco skyscraper, which was completed just 11 months prior to the opening of the Empire State Building.
The architect for Raskob's project was William Lamb of the New York architectural firm Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon. It is said that he based his design on the long, clean lines of a pencil. He was also influenced by the designs of Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, who was famous for his art nouveau creations.
It took just 18 months to build the 102-story, 1,250-foot-tall skyscraper, and a handful of men were killed in construction-related accidents. Records show that the men built at great speeds, completing approximately 4.5 stories of framework each week at the onset of the project. Many of the workers were European immigrants and others included the famous Mohawk iron workers from the Kahnawake Reservation near Montreal, Quebec.
As was typical of designs of the time, this Art Deco creation utilizations several setbacks to offset the visual distortion common with a building of this enormous height. Approximately 200,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone and granite was used for the facade. The stone was rough cut at the quarry and required no final cutting once it was put in place, saving time and pleasing Raskob, who was in a hurry to complete the skyscraper and beat Chrysler. He also proposed that the posts, beams, windows and window frames be made in factories and put together at the site. Most of the 60,000 tons of steel used for this purpose came from steel mills in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and arrived by train or barge.
Once the initial 88 floors were completed, the additional 14 floors of the Empire State Building were constructed of glass, steel, and aluminum, measuring about 200 feet tall with a dome sitting on top. A metal-plated tower was originally designed to moor zeppelins but the winds at that elevation made it nearly impossible to accomplish that task. In 1951, a broadcasting antenna was added and the tower was put to use as storage space for equipment.
The Empire State Building remained the tallest building in the world until the completion of the World Trade Center North Tower in 1972, which was - in turn - surpassed by Chicago's Sears Tower in 1973. (After the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the Empire State Building resumed its status as the tallest structure in NYC.) It was declared a landmark by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1981 and was placed on the State and National Register of Historic Places the following year. In 1986, it became a National Historic Landmark.
Today, more than 120 million people have visited the Empire State Building. After admiring the ornate three-story lobby complete with an aluminum relief of the skyscraper and eight illuminated panels proclaiming the structure to be the Eighth Wonder of the World, guests generally head to the observation tower on the 86th floor. It takes just one minute to get there via one of the building's 73 elevators. For an additional fee, visitors may board an elevator to the 102nd floor observation deck, which was closed in 1999 but reopened in 2005. This deck, unlike the other, is completely enclosed.
Each evening, New York City visitors can view the powerful colored spotlights that illuminate the tower. While the lights are often red, white, and blue, they do change on occasion in commemoration of particular events or holidays or to honor New York City's sports teams.