Herbert Hoover Dedicates Empire State Building

On this day in 1931, President Herbert Hoover officially dedicates New York City’s Empire State Building and presses a button that turns on the building’s electrical lights. Hoover was not actually in New York for the dedication. The button he pushed was a symbolic one in Washington D.C.; someone else flicked the switches on in New York. Ironically, one of the building’s biggest financial backers was former New York State Governor Alfred A. Smith, who had run an unsuccessful presidential campaign against Hoover in 1928.

At the time, the Empire State Building, at 102 stories and 1,250 feet high, was the world’s tallest structure. Designed by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon Associates, it took one year and 7 million man hours to build, but came in under budget at $40 million. The Depression-era construction employed as many as 3,400 workers on any single day and was completed ahead of schedule. The Art Deco-style skyscraper was serviced by seven banks of what were considered at the time to be very fast, state-of-the-art elevators.

The new building imbued New York City with a deep sense of pride, desperately needed in the depths of the Great Depression, when many city residents were unemployed, scraping to get by and saw only a bleak future ahead of them. The grip of the Depression on New York’s economy was still evident a year later, however, when only 25 percent of the Empire State Building’s offices had been rented.

In 1972, the Empire State Building lost its standing as the world’s tallest building with the completion of the 110-story World Trade Center. (The World Trade Center itself only held the title for about a year.) When the World Trade Center was demolished by a terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, the Empire State Building again became the tallest building in New York City.

In 2004, the Taipei 101 building in Taipei, Taiwan, became the world’s tallest building at 1,670 feet tall. This was overtaken by the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai in 2010.

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