During the incredible building boom of early 20th century, it was said that crew foremen could expect one man to die for every $1million spent on a skyscraper. In these heady early years – when industry barons raced each other to see who could get their towers built first – workers had few protections. They wore no hard hats or safety ropes. But even inches from peril, some men managed to laugh in the face of death. These incredible pictures show construction workers goofing off as they built the Empire State Building
The incredible gallery below was made available by the New York Public Library. It showcases the amazing work of photographer Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940), a pioneering social photographer. All of the images below were taken in 1931 during the construction of the Empire State Building. Many of the images may give you chills as the workers traverse steal beams unsecured with no harnesses.
The stunts are no laughing matter. Five men died in accidents during the breakneck construction of the Empire State Building. An estimated 27 workers perished during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which was completed in 1883. ‘Building skyscrapers is the nearest peace-time equivalent of war. In fact, the analogy is startling, even to the occasional grim reality of a building accident where maimed bodies, and even death, remind us that we are fighting a war of construction against the forces of nature,’ work foreman William Starrette was quoted as saying.
The Empire State Building is generally thought of as an American cultural icon. It is designed in the distinctive Art Deco style and has been named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The building and its street floor interior are designated landmarks of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and confirmed by the New York City Board of Estimate. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 2007, it was ranked number one on the AIA’s List of America’s Favorite Architecture.
The site of the Empire State Building was first developed as the John Thompson Farm in the late 18th century. At the time, a stream ran across the site, emptying into Sunfish Pond, located a block away. Beginning in the late 19th century, the block was occupied by the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, frequented by The Four Hundred, the social elite of New York.
The limestone for the Empire State Building came from the Empire Mill in Sanders, Indiana which is an unincorporated town adjacent to Bloomington, Indiana. The Empire Mill Land office is near State Road 37 and Old State Road 37 just south of Bloomington. The Bloomington, Bedford, and Oolitic area is known locally as the limestone capital of the world.