From the White House with a push of a button on this day 85 years ago, Herbert Hoover turned on the lights for the newly completed Empire State Building. Built in the midst of the Great Depression for about $40 million dollars, it became a symbol of optimism, and what money, power and skilled workers were capable of doing when working together. Like the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and other projects that make you proud to be human, the Empire State Building was built mostly with immigrant labor. Augmenting the immigrants were hundreds of Mohawk Ironworkers. For more than a century these Native Americans have built much of Manhattan, including the World Trade Center.
Despite their optimism, the owners didn’t turn a profit on it until 1950. It was knick-named the “Empty State Building”. In fact, the two million dollars in ticket sales to the observation deck exceeded the rent received for the entire building for the first year.
The site was the original estate of John Jacob Astor Jr. His mansion on this site which was eventually razed to make room for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which in turn was razed to make room for the Empire State Building. Amazingly, the architectural drawings for the Empire State Building were completed in just 2 weeks, since most of the design came from existing drawings for the Reynolds Building in North Carolina. With the help of 3,400 workers, the building itself was completed in just over one year. Sometimes the steel structure grew by as many as 4 ½ floors per week. For nearly 40 years it was the tallest building in the world until replaced by the original World Trade Center.