These Photos of the Empire State Building’s Magnificent Construction Will Take Your Breath Away

Construction of the Empire State Building took place between 1929 and 1931. Of the 3,400 workers involved, hundreds were Mohawk workers (Iron Walkers) from the Kahnawake reservation near Montreal. In 1886 a group of Mohawk tribespeople were hired to work on a bridge over the St. Lawrence River onto Mohawk land, and since then they have become seasoned in high-level construction. Kyle Karonhiaktatie Beauvais, a member of the Mohawke tribe, suggests “A lot of people think Mohawks aren’t afraid of heights; that’s not true. We have as much fear as the next guy. The difference is that we deal with it better.” Many Mohawk families had arrived in New York City by 1916, and were integral in most of the city’s major projects from then on.
The construction of the Empire State Building was obviously a huge deal. Press and magazine photographers flocked to the site regularly to capture the development of what was, at the time, the tallest skyscraper in the world.
Here are 20 photographs that showcase the enormity of the project and the courageousness of those involved:



Sep, 13. 1930: “Carl Russell waves to his co-workers on the structural work of the 88th floor of the new Empire State Building. When complete the highest man-made structure in the world will rise 1,222 feet above the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street. The cameraman risked his life climbing a derrick to snap this unusual photograph. Notice the “Toy” cars and the ant-sized pedestrians walking about Herald Square almost a quarter of a mile below.”



c. 1929-1931: “Empire State Building under Construction”


Sep. 29, 1931: “A ‘blimp’ flying over the Empire State Building.”


Jan. 26, 1932: “It may be painful for the ant-like spectators in the street below, but it’s all in a day’s work for these smiling window washers as they go about their precarious work cleaning up the Empire State Building, world’s tallest structure, at dizzy heights of hundreds of feet above the street.”




Jan. 26, 1932: “The startling ‘shot’ was made by the photographer looking down upon the window washers on the 34th street side of the world-famed building. Note the tiny insects that are motor cars and pedestrians.”



1930s: “Aerial view of New York City atop the Empire State Building”


Sept. 29, 1930: “Flirting with danger is just routine work for the steel workers arranging the steel frame for the Empire State Building, which will be the world’s tallest structure when completed.”



Dec. 2, 1932: “New York City: Lighting Up ‘Way Up.’ A striking silhouette atop the gigantic RCA Building in Rockefeller Center, New York, as workmen light their cigarettes at the end of a working day. The Empire State Building rises dramatically in the background.”



Sept. 29, 1930: “Erected on the site of the old Waldorf Astoria, this building will rise 1,284 feet into the air. A zeppelin mooring mast will cap this engineering feat.”


Sept. 29, 1930


Mar. 24, 1936: “Air like wine. An unusual picture of one of the intrepid window washers working on the Empire State Building, as he pauses in his task to draw a lung-full of clean air at his height. With the oncoming of the warmer weather our skyscrapers begin to look like giant ant-hills as these washers clamber over the faces of the structures calmly doing their nerve-tingling work. Or maybe the fellow pictured here is just issuing an invitation to the cameraman to come a little closer.”



Sept. 29, 1930


Sept. 29, 1930



Sept. 29, 1930: “An odd photographic trick placed this steelworker’s finger on the lofty pinnacle of the Chrysler Building. This view was taken from the Empire State Building, the world’s tallest building, which is now rising on the site of the old Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. A mooring mast for dirigibles will cap this 1,284-foot structure.”



Oct. 29, 1930: “A construction worker hangs from an industrial crane during the construction of the Empire State Building.”


May 1, 1931: “Ex-Governor Alfred E. Smith, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, and others at the top of the Empire State Building, tallest in the world, gazing out over the New York panorama. This scene took place immediately after the official opening of the structure this morning, which was completed when President Herbert Hoover pressed a telegraph key back in Washington, DC, which turned on all of the building’s lights. Mr. Smith is the president of the company that built the building.”



Feb. 28, 1956: “Workmen place one of the new beacon lights in position on the 90th floor of an impressive electronic crown in the form of four far-reaching night beacons. Combined, the four Empire State Night lights will generate almost two billion candle power of light and will be the brightest continuous source of man-made light in the world. Engineers say the beacons can be seen from as far as 300 miles. Cost of the installation is $250,000.”



May 22, 1947: “View From the Top of the Empire State Building”


July 30, 1945: “Workmen erect scaffolding on the 33rd Street Side of the Empire State Building as reconstruction work on the skyscraper begins. In spite of the damage the structure suffered when a B-25 crashed between the 78th and 79th stories, the world’s tallest building was open today (July 30th), two days after the tragic accident.”



Sept. 19, 1930: “Workmen at the new Empire State building that is being erected on the site of the old Waldorf Astoria Hotel at 34th Street and 5th Avenue. in New York, by a corporation headed by the former Governor Al Smith, raised a flag on the 88th story of the great building, 1,048 feet above the street. The flag thus is at the highest point in the city higher then the Crystler Building. Photo shows the workmen at the ceremonies.”