November 19, 2011

Incredible Photos Show the Terrifying Conditions for Empire State Building Construction Workers in the 1930s

Construction of New York City's Empire State Building began in 1929 and finished in 1931. Its opening coincided with the Great Depression and, as a result, much of the office space went unrented, leading to the derisory nickname the "Empty State Building." Earnings from the observation deck made as much as the rental income in its first year. The skyscraper did not become profitable until 1950.

Construction involved 3,400 workers, some from Europe, plus hundreds of Mohawk workers (Iron Walkers) from Kahnawake reservation near Montreal. The Mohawk's involvement in high-level construction goes back to 1886 when a group of men were hired to work on a bridge over the St. Lawrence River onto Mohawk land. The tribe members had an aptitude for working at heights.

The Empire State's construction work and its workers were a magnet for press and magazine photographers, which is how many iconic images of the construction work were created, like these.


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