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History of Empire State Building in Pictures (1931 - 1984)

The Empire State Building is an iconic skyscraper located in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. It was completed in 1931 and has since become one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world. The building’s origin can be traced back to the 1920s, when a group of investors led by John J. Raskob and Alfred E. Smith decided to construct the tallest building in the world on the site of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

The Empire State Building stands at 1,454 feet (443.2 meters) tall, and was the tallest building in the world until the completion of the World Trade Center in 1971. It has 102 floors, and was constructed using a steel frame clad in limestone and granite. The building was designed by architect William F. Lamb of the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, and its construction was completed in just over a year. At the time of its construction, the Empire State Building was considered a marvel of modern engineering, and it remains a symbol of New York City’s engineering prowess to this day.

The impact of the Empire State Building on the New York City skyline cannot be overstated. From its position on Fifth Avenue, the building dominates the surrounding landscape, and is visible from many points throughout the city. The building’s Art Deco design and elegant lines are a testament to the optimism and energy of the early 20th century, and it has been featured in countless films, television shows, and other media. Today, the Empire State Building remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in New York City, with millions of visitors coming to see its breathtaking views and iconic design every year.

Photograph of two construction workers, perched atop the steel framework of the Empire State Building.

1931: Construction of the Empire State Building

Photograph of two construction workers, perched atop the steel framework of the Empire State Building.

Stunning photograph of a daredevil construction worker at the Empire State Building, soaring above Manhattan like Icarus himself.

1931: Empire State Icarus

Stunning photograph of a daredevil construction worker at the Empire State Building, soaring above Manhattan like Icarus himself.

Aerial photograph of a lone construction worker working on the steel structure of the Empire State Building.

1931: Worker at the Edge of Empire State Platform

Aerial photograph of a lone construction worker working on the steel structure of the Empire State Building.

Aerial photograph taken from inside the growing structure of the Empire State Building. An epic view of downtown Manhattan is framed by the silhouette of a massive crane hook and steel beam.

1931: Crane Hook and Skyline Looking South from Empire State Building

Aerial photograph taken from inside the growing structure of the Empire State Building. An epic view of downtown Manhattan is framed by the silhouette of a massive crane hook and steel beam.

A work clings to the steel framing of the future Empire State Building with a bird's eye view of Midtown Manhattan, many stories below him.

1931: Empire State Worker Hanging on to Two Steel Beams

A work clings to the steel framing of the future Empire State Building with a bird's eye view of Midtown Manhattan, many stories below him.

Bird's eye view of midtown Manhattan and the Empire State Building, about 75% complete with half of its steel structure visible.

1931: Empire State Building Almost Complete

Bird's eye view of midtown Manhattan and the Empire State Building, about 75% complete with half of its steel structure visible.

The first twenty floors of the Empire State Building are being constructed. There is no visible facade yet, only the steel beam structure and scaffolding of construction workers.

1931: View of Empire State Construction from 34th Street

The first twenty floors of the Empire State Building are being constructed. There is no visible facade yet, only the steel beam structure and scaffolding of construction workers.

The Empire State Building's ground floors are clad in Indiana limestone panels, sourced from the Empire Mill in Sanders, Indiana, which give the building its signature blonde color.

1931: Facade Construction Begins on Empire State Building

The Empire State Building's ground floors are clad in Indiana limestone panels, sourced from the Empire Mill in Sanders, Indiana, which give the building its signature blonde color.

Photograph of the Empire State Building and surrounding skyscrapers illuminated at night.

1937: Empire State Building at Night

Photograph of the Empire State Building and surrounding skyscrapers illuminated at night.

An elevated perspective of Midtown Manhattan's famous skyscrapers with the Empire State Building casting a long shadow as the sun illuminates 5th Avenue.

1952: The Empire State Building

An elevated perspective of Midtown Manhattan's famous skyscrapers with the Empire State Building casting a long shadow as the sun illuminates 5th Avenue.

Aerial photograph of the Empire State Building illuminated at night.

1953: Empire State Building at Night

Aerial photograph of the Empire State Building illuminated at night.

Aerial photograph of the Empire State Building and Manhattan's skyline with Queens and Brooklyn visible in the background.

1984: Empire State Building and New York's Skyline

Aerial photograph of the Empire State Building and Manhattan's skyline with Queens and Brooklyn visible in the background.


In the early 1600s, the land where the Empire State Building now stands was a rural expanse, part of a larger tract of land known as “Noortwyck” or “Northwick” in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. At the time, the area consisted of rolling hills, forests, and marshlands, inhabited by the indigenous Lenape people and teeming with wildlife. European settlers eventually developed the land for agricultural purposes, but the transformation of the area into the bustling cityscape we know today was still centuries away. The site’s journey from farmland to iconic landmark began in the late 19th century when New York City underwent rapid industrialization and urbanization. The parcel of land at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street transitioned from residential to commercial use with the construction of the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1893. This luxurious hotel, which occupied the site until 1929, was a symbol of Manhattan’s Gilded Age, attracting the city’s elite and setting the stage for the monumental structure that would follow.

The Empire State Building’s construction was spurred by a fierce rivalry between two prominent businessmen, Walter Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation and John Jakob Raskob, a financier and former executive of General Motors. As they sought to outdo each other by erecting the world’s tallest building, Raskob assembled a team of visionaries to bring his ambitious project to fruition. Architect William F. Lamb, from the firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, was tasked with designing the building, while the Starrett Brothers and Eken construction company were responsible for its construction.

On March 17, 1930, demolition of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel began, clearing the way for the Empire State Building’s construction. Remarkably, the building’s construction took just 13 months, with workers completing an average of 4.5 stories per week. This incredible pace can be attributed to the efficiency and skill of the workforce, as well as the use of prefabricated steel components, which expedited the assembly process. In total, over 3,400 laborers contributed to the construction of the building. The Empire State Building officially opened on May 1, 1931, with a grand ceremony presided over by President Herbert Hoover and New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Throughout its storied history, the Empire State Building has also played a prominent role in popular culture. The building has been featured in countless films, television shows, and books, often serving as a backdrop for pivotal scenes or as a symbol of the city itself. From its unforgettable appearance in the 1933 film “King Kong” to its annual role in the New York City skyline during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Empire State Building has become an enduring fixture in the cultural imagination. The Empire State Building’s legacy extends far beyond its impressive architecture and height. As a symbol of innovation, determination, and the American Dream, the building stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of New York City and its people. From the early days of Dutch settlement to its present-day role as a global icon, the history of the Empire State Building reflects the ever-evolving story of the city it calls home.

In conclusion, the Empire State Building’s rich history is a captivating tale of ambition, innovation, and triumph. From its origins on a tract of land in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam to its completion as the world’s tallest building during the Great Depression, the Empire State Building has stood as a monument to the resilience and ingenuity of the human spirit. Today, it remains an enduring symbol of New York City’s architectural and cultural heritage, captivating the hearts and imaginations of millions who pass through its doors or gaze upon its majestic silhouette.



Timeline of Events for Empire State Building, New York City

1. The Empire State Building iconic Art Deco design was created by the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, with William F. Lamb serving as the chief architect. 2. The groundbreaking for The Empire State Building commenced on March 17, 1930 and was completed in just 410 days, or roughly 13 months, an impressive feat for a building of its size and complexity. 3. Over 3,400 workers were employed during the construction process of The Empire State Building and these workers included laborers, steelworkers, masons, and many other skilled tradespeople. 4. Over 57,000 tons of steel were used in the construction of the Empire State Building. The building's steel framework was essential to support its immense height and weight. 5. The building stands at 1,454 feet (443.2 meters) tall, including its iconic spire. When it was completed in 1931, it was the tallest building in the world. 6. It has 102 floors, with the best views from its 86th Floor (1,050 feet) to the 102nd Floor (1,250 feet) Observatory. 7. The 102nd-floor observatory was originally intended to be a docking station for airships, also known as dirigibles. 8. It has a total of 6,514 windows. This large number of windows is characteristic of its Art Deco architectural style, which emphasizes vertical lines. 9. It has a total of 73 elevators, including service elevators. These elevators efficiently transport people and goods throughout the building's 102 floors. 10. The observation deck is visited by over 4 million people each year. Located on the 86th floor, offers stunning 360-degree views of New York City and beyond. 11. The Empire State Building Run-Up is an annual race (first Run-Up was held in 1978) from the lobby up the 1,576 steps to the 86th-floor observation deck. 12. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986, as an iconic symbol of New York City and the United States. 13. The Building's exterior is made of Indiana limestone that gives the building its light-colored appearance, while the granite provides a strong and durable foundation. 14. It has its own post office on the second floor. This post office provides mailing services for the building's tenants and visitors to the iconic skyscraper. 15. It has appeared on numerous postage stamps, solidifying its status as a cultural landmark and symbol of American progress. 16. It was initially intended to have a flat roof, but the spire was added to compete with the height of the Chrysler Building. 17. Al Smith, a former Governor of New York and the building's first president, was instrumental in the building's construction. 18. It is said that The Empire State Building's construction used enough concrete to build a sidewalk from New York City to Washington, D.C. 19. It has a 103rd-floor balcony that is not open to the public but is occasionally used for special events and promotions. 20. It was the site of a "gorilla wedding" in 1983, when two gorillas from the Bronx Zoo were "married" on the building's observation deck. 21. In 2016, the Empire State Building's observation deck was used as the finish line for the television show "The Amazing Race." 22. Its lighting system can display over 16 million colors, providing a vast array of options for special lighting displays. 23. It hosts an annual "Lights Out" event, in which the building's exterior lights are turned off to raise awareness for energy conservation and climate change. 24. It was one of the first commercial buildings to use air rights, selling the unused air rights above the building to adjacent properties. 25. The Empire State Building has a long-standing rivalry with the nearby Chrysler Building, both vying for the title of New York City's most iconic skyscraper.



250 Million Years to Present Day NYC: Natural Wonder to World's Most Famous City

Explore NYC's transformation over 250 million years, from its origins in Pangea to becoming the world's most famous and dynamic city today



Frequently Asked Questions

What Defines History101.nyc? Explore NYC's Historical Journey

Welcome to "History101.NYC," an unparalleled online gallery featuring the beginnings of New York City, exquisitely restored by the experts at Fine Print New York. This exclusive collection vividly resurrects key historical moments, celebrating the city's rich history and diverse cultural heritage. Each meticulously crafted piece in our gallery offers a genuine look into NYC's past, embodying exceptional artistic skill and meticulous attention to detail.

Dive into our archives for a selection of exclusive, premium-quality art prints, encompassing a range of vintage photos, historical images, and rare lithographs unique to our site. These curated artworks narrate the dynamic evolution of the Big Apple, providing history enthusiasts and art collectors with a rare opportunity to own a part of NYC's illustrious legacy. Don't miss the chance to explore and acquire these captivating representations of New York City's historical journey.

Who Are the Founders of History101.nyc? Discover the Creators

Joseph Gornail, a printer/photographer and founder of Fine Print New York, grew up in SoHo, Manhattan. Part of a long lineage of NYC printers, he learned the craft of printing as a teenager. Joseph's pivotal role in the New York printing industry began while working for Dolo Records/Stretch Armstrong in 1996. He then founded All City Marketing & Printing, and in 1999, co-founded the iconic streetwear brand "Orchard Street" with Benjamin Holloway and Greig Bennett. In 2004, Joseph established Fine Print NYC, a top-tier commercial printing company in New York. It launched with a major project for Nike, showcasing resilience and innovation in the digital age.

Steven Garcia, esteemed designer/illustrator and creative director at Fine Print New York, hails from Bushwick, Brooklyn. An alumnus of Fashion Industries High School and F.I.T., Steven's impressive career trajectory includes his tenure as a sought-after professional retoucher and storyboard artist at Saatchi & Saatchi in 1995. His entrepreneurial spirit led to the inception of ShinyDesign in 1998, later aligning with Fine Print in 2004 as their primary design partner. Steven's portfolio boasts collaborations with high-profile brands like Snapple, The Waldorf Astoria, and Sony, making him a prominent figure in New York's advertising and design landscape.

Together, Joseph & Steven spearhead the History101.nyc project, a groundbreaking digital archive since 2006. Their longstanding partnership dates back to 2001, when Joseph managed The New York City Urban Experience, an influential art gallery & museum at 85 South Street, and Steven curated, both contributing to New York City's vibrant cultural scene. This venue, owned by Mike Saes of the Nike Bridge Runners and True Yorkers, was a cornerstone for urban art and history enthusiasts.

What Time Periods, Eras, Decades of NYC History are available?

We cover a vast span of New York City's history, from its inception as New Amsterdam to the vibrant late 1980s. Our artists are actively working on expanding our collection to include photos from the 90s up to the present day.

Here's our current coverage list, showcasing the city's evolution:

Dutch Era: When New York Was New Amsterdam

NYC in the 1600s

Georgian Era

NYC in the 1700s • NYC from 1800 to 1840NYC in the 1840s • 

Victorian Era

NYC in the 1850s • NYC in the 1860s • NYC in the 1870s • NYC in the 1880s

Progressive Era

NYC in the 1890s • NYC from 1900 to 1905 • 1905 to 1910 • 1910 to 1915 • 

World War 1

NYC from 1915 to 1920

Art Deco

NYC from 1920 to 1925 • NYC from 1925 to 1930

Depression Era

NYC from 1930 to 1935 • NYC from 1935 to 1940

World War 2

NYC from 1940 to 1945

MidCentury Modern Era

NYC from 1945 to 1950 • 1950 to 1955 • 1955 to 1960 • 1960 to 1965 • 1965 to 1970

Energy Crisis

NYC from 1970 to 1975 • 1975 to 1980

Reagan Era

NYC from 1980 to 1985 • 1985 to 1990

Each period is richly represented through a variety of art mediums, offering a comprehensive and immersive historical journey of NYC. This chronological approach provides enthusiasts and scholars a unique lens into the city's architectural, cultural, and social developments.

How many historical Images are on this site?

There are currently 755 photos, lithographs, illustrations and maps on this site. Each one has been digitally restored and cleaned up by hand, which makes this collection truly unique.

Can I License Any of These Images?

Digital licenses are available for educational institutions (schools, universities, non-profit organizations). Please contact legal@fineprintnyc.com to discuss conditions for licensing.

NOTE: Any form of commercialization or redistribution of these images, either as tangible goods or third party licenses, is expressly forbidden.

Can I purchase prints of the historical images available on the site?

History101.nyc is an ad-free and non-profit learning resource. We do not sell prints of these images. All operational costs are covered by Fine Print NYC

Do you accept admissions to this collection?

Absolutely! Feel free to send us an email with a preview of the image and we will let you know if it's a good fit for the archives.

How do you handle feedback or corrections regarding the historical context of images?

We welcome any feedback that you may have. If it proves to be historically accurate the changes will be reflected on the site shortly after our correspondence.

Do you collaborate with other historical societies or archives?

We have collaborated with NYC's Municipal Archives, The Tenemant Museum, Bronx Historical Society and a number of prominent NYC photographers to produce a series of limited edition postcards which free of charge, but only available via street distribution, primarily in Manhattan.

Do you also provide image restoration as a service for personal photos?

Yes, we can repair, restore and cleanup your old family photos, slides and negatives. You can either send us the digital files or the original photos to be professionally scanned.

Can you repair any type of image damage?

We can restore just about any level of damage or signs of aging, within reason. As long as most of the photo is intact we cn work with it. The one flaw we cannot fix is source material that is blurry. A poorly take photo can only be improved so much.

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History101.NYC is an ad-free learning resource available to the public at no charge.
This project is dedicated to exploring New York’s fascinating heritage through the restoration of vintage photographs and prints.