Why Did They Build the Empire State Building?

Oliver Lopez Asis/Moment/Getty Images

John Jacob Rascob built the Empire State Building because he was competing with other entrepreneurs to construct the tallest skyscraper in the world. His main competitor was Walter Chrysler, who was attempting to build the world’s tallest building in New York City at the same time.

The French completion of the Eiffel Tower in 1889, at 984 feet, spurred American architects to outdo each other to construct the world’s tallest skyscraper. In 1909, the Metropolitan Life Tower reached 700 feet and 50 stories. In 1913, the Woolworth building reached 792 feet and 57 stories. After the Bank of Manhattan building reached 927 feet and 71 stories in 1929, Walter Chrysler and John Jacob Rascob joined the fray. Each kept the details of the height of his building from the other. In the end, the Chrysler Building topped off at 1,046 feet, while the Empire State Building, at 1,250 feet and 102 stories, became the world’s tallest skyscraper, a record it held until 1972, when the World Trade Center was completed. In 2009, when the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai was finished, it became the world’s tallest building at 2,722 feet.

To build the Empire State Building, Rascob first bought the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and demolished that building to use the site. In the race to be first and tallest, the Empire State Building was constructed in only one year and 45 days, and its cost was almost $10 million less than its $50 million budget. On the opening day, May 1, 1931, President Herbert Hoover symbolically lit up the Empire State Building from the White House by pushing a button.