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September 1, 2010

Lunch Atop a Skyscraper: The Story Behind the Famous Shot in 1932

For 80 years, the 11 ironworkers in the iconic photo have remained unknown, and now, thanks to new research, two of them have been identified.



Entitled ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’, it’s a photo that has often thrown up more questions than answers. For 80 years, the identity of its taker and the eleven men in the photo remained a mystery. It was a story lost in time, with its heroes unknown.

Who are the men in the photo?

However, a 2012 Irish documentary entitled ‘Men at Lunch’ uncovered some unknown truths, including a theory that two of the men in the photo hailed from Ireland.

Connemara filmmaker, Sean O Cualain, saw the photograph on the wall of a Galway pub with an accompanying note, which read: “This is my dad on the far right and my uncle-in-law on the far left.” O Cualain’s curiosity got the better of him, so he asked the barman could he be put in contact with the note's scribe.

The barman duly obliged and, that evening, the filmmaker was on the phone to Pat Glynn, the son of a Shanaglish emigrant, who claimed his father was one of the men on the beam. After an investigation, he confirmed that the man holding the bottle was Pat’s father, Sonny Glynn, and the man on the far left was Matty O’Shaughnessy, his uncle-in-law. Joseph Eckner, third from left, and Joe Curtis, third from right, have also been confirmed.

Although some of the men within the photo remain anonymous, it is clear that most of them were men who travelled to America in the 1920s, with the dream of a better life.

Matty O’Shaughnessy (L), now identified as the far left man and Sonny Glynn (R), now connected to the far right in the ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’ photograph. (Sonta Films)

Erasing the myths

Despite many people associating the photo with the Empire State building, it was actually taken on the 69th floor of the RCA Building. It’s thought that the photo was staged to promote Rockefeller’s new skyscraper. This is due to there being several other lesser-known photos taken as part of the shoot.

The photo was taken on September 29, 1932, and first appeared in public in a Sunday photo supplement of The New York Herald Tribune on October 2, 1932. Corbis, who acquired the Acme Newspictures archive in 1995, now own the glass negative of this infamous picture.

The original negative of ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’ from 1932, which is seen in the documentary, directed by Sean O Cualain. (Bettman/Corbis)

Who took the photo?

‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’ has probably been incorrectly attributed more than any other photograph in history. Many people falsely credit Lewis Hine, the famous photographer who documented the construction of the Empire State Building. Charles C. Ebbets also got credit for this work, before a 2003 investigation found that it may not have been him who took the picture.

There were several photographers at the shoot, so it’s impossible to know who took the shot. The photo may not be attributed to any photographer, but it will always be associated with a type of person. A person who’s willing to travel the world in the hope of a better life. A person who dreams big.

Regardless, the photo was a piece of American history, and remains Corbis’ biggest selling historical snapshot. A second image from the series shows the men taking a post lunch snooze on the girder.

Construction workers taking a nap on a steel girder during construction of the RCA building in New York City in 1932 after the iconic ‘Lunch Atop a Skyscraper’ picture was taken. (Bettmann/Corbis)



  1. or haracteristic of the best period of a person's work.... change he Haracteristic in he itle , man :))))

  2. These people could and would walk on beams with out harnesses - my grandma worked as a secretary for iron workers and the interesting stories she has told me. It was like second nature for them to walk on small beams like it was nothing.

  3. Hey there, You have done a fantastic job. I will certainly digg it and personally suggest to my friends. I am confident they'll be benefited from this website.

  4. Did I just reach the beginning? I am a visitor from the year 2021 working my way backwards. I mean you no harm. Take me to your leader. What prize have I won?




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