History of the Empire State Building

September 18, 2023

May, 1931. President Herbert Hoover presses a button in Washington, D.C., turning on the lights of – and effectively opening – the world’s most famous building for the first time. 

It’s one of the most iconic, celebrated and recognizable buildings in the world, and it’s crossing another milestone. Completed in May of 1931, The Empire State Building in Manhattan is celebrating its 90th birthday this month, and it’s still wowing people with its size, style and history.  

When completed it was the world’s tallest structure, and stood that way for 40 years, the longest any building has held that title. In its distinguished tenure as a Manhattan landmark the 102 story Art-Deco masterpiece has inspired architecture lovers, classic movies, student groups and so much more. It’s even been voted as one of the seven greatest engineering achievements in American History.  

While it’s physical stature is impressive, its real story is the history that it tells. The building actually replaced the first Waldorf-Astoria hotel. The original German Renaissance style W-A was demolished in 1929 to make way for this first-of-its-kind skyscraper, the world’s first building over 100 stories. But considering its construction during the great depression, it started out as a money pit for investors. In fact, there was more money made from the observation deck in the 1930s than in rents paid to the owners. Locals even called it the “Empty State Building.”  

Even the construction is history revealing, illustrating the revolutionary process of steel-making that allowed buildings to scrape the skies, not to mention how it speaks to the lives of the immigrants and native laborers who contributed to its completion. In short, the storied building is a living monument to significant features of American history.  

Today, at 90 years old, its stone and style still inspire. On tours of New York City, thousands of students on their class trip to New York City lift their heads in amazement at its grandeur. They look down in fearful wonder from its observation deck. And through the building and the surrounding city, they gain a glimpse into the past, the present, and the possibilities of the future.   

Join us! Submit a free quote request for student trips to New York City and one of our Educational Program Specialists will be in touch!

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