Things You Never Knew About the Empire State Building

Thanks to its elegant, Art Deco design and iconic antenna, the Empire State Building is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. But there’s a lot more to this famous New York landmark than meets the eye. As a memorable part of Manhattan’s skyline for 90 years, the Empire State Building has weathered storms and witnessed its fair share of pivotal moments in history. Here are some little-known secrets about this iconic structure.


It’s the Result of an Extraordinary Building Competition

Airel view of Chrysler Builder.
Credit: Mike Rasching/ Unsplash

New York in the 1920s was fraught with competition between millionaire moguls attempting to outdo each other. The economy was booming, and the rich and powerful wanted their presence known — what better way to lay your claim in the city than by building the tallest skyscraper? The Bank of Manhattan on Wall Street, Walter Chrysler (of the car corporation), and the team of General Motors executive John Raskob and former New York Governor Al Smith decided to go all in on the challenge. With secretive strategies and last-minute changes, the Chrysler Building surpassed the new Bank of Manhattan structure in 1930 — but it wouldn't be on top for long. Seeing the former stand at a record-breaking 1,048 feet, Raskob and Smith adjusted their plans and unleashed their 1,250-foot Empire State Building in 1931.


It Hosts a Famous Fitness Fundraiser

Aerial view of New York City from Observation deck.
Credit: tobiasjo/ iStock

The Empire State Building Annual Run-Up began in 1978 and has been going strong ever since. Those who wish to test their fitness stamina against the 86 flights of stairs leading up to the observation deck can enter a lottery system and hope for an invitation to participate in the 1,576-step race. Powered by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), the race draws celebrities, real estate moguls, and members of the NYPD and FDNY to raise money to support physically challenged athletes.


It Was the Tallest Building in the World for 40 Years

New York City Manhattan aerial view.
Credit: sborisov/ iStock

After its completion in 1931, the Empire State Building reigned supreme as the tallest building in New York and the world for about 40 years. It eventually lost the title to the World Trade Center, which was built in New York in 1970, and has been losing ground ever since. Fast forward to 2020, and the Empire State Building doesn’t even break the top 40 tallest buildings in the world.


It Lights Up the City With Different Colors Every Night

The Empire State Building lite up at night.
Credit: Mihai_Andritoiu/ Shutterstock

In 2012, the Empire State Building upgraded to a state-of-the-art LED light system able to create 16 million different color combinations. The lights of the Empire State Building coordinate with what’s going on at the moment; for example, green, blue, and yellow for the start of the U.S. Open or red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July. The system is so impressive that Shawn Mendes decided to team up with the Empire State Building to raise money for charity with a “music-to-light” show synced to “If I Can’t Have You.” It was a hit!


It Had a Surprising Nickname

The peak of Empire State building with sunset in background.
Credit: Miltiadis Fragkidis/ Unsplash

Constructed in the midst of the Great Depression, the Empire State Building garnered a lot of attention when plans to erect such a tall building commenced. However, it struggled to live up to the hype in terms of occupancy. In fact, the building had a 75% vacancy rate in the years following its grand opening, earning it the nickname the “Empty State Building.” It wasn’t until the 1950s that the Empire State Building finally started profiting from a full house of clients.


It Has Its Own Zip Code

New York City Manhattan overlook to the skyscrapers at sunset.
Credit: Oscity/ Shutterstock

Like other prominent New York City buildings with their very own zip codes the Equitable Life Building, Woolworth Building, Park Avenue Plaza), the Empire State Building has its own set of identifying numbers: 10118. Why? Well, 150 businesses call the skyscraper home, and they all need to receive their mail in a timely, uninterrupted fashion. The designation of a unique zip code helps the mail delivery system stay organized and run smoothly.


It Was Hit by a B-25 Bomber

New York city skyline with clouds.
Credit: Orbon Alija/ iStock

On a foggy July morning in 1945, a B-25 bomber piloted by Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith Jr. crashed into the 78th and 79th floors of the Empire State Building. Originally on his way to LaGuardia Airport, Smith Jr. was forced to change his flight plan when air traffic controllers instructed him to land instead at Newark Airport in New Jersey because of thick fog. While trying to navigate over Manhattan, Smith Jr. narrowly missed hitting the Chrysler Building before plunging his plane into the top floors of the Empire State Building. Tragically, 11 workers inside the building were killed along with three people inside the plane.


Its Observation Deck Was Once Used as a Launch Pad

Pedestrians on zebra crossing, New York City.
Credit: Orbon Alija/ iStock

Alastair Boyd and Michael McCarthy — a fearless duo from London — put on quite a show one day in April 1986. The two daredevils smuggled parachutes into the Empire State Building under their raincoats and made their way up to the 86th floor Observation Deck, located 1,050 feet above New York City. Both men then climbed over the 10-foot safety barrier constructed around the ledge before jumping. Boyd managed to make the scheduled landing on 5th Avenue and quickly fled the scene in a cab. Unfortunately for McCarthy, he snagged his chute around a traffic light pole and was arrested after he was unable to produce a permit for the James Bond movie he claimed to be filming. He was charged with reckless endangerment, putting on an exhibition without a permit, and unlawful parachuting. As for why he pulled such a dangerous stunt in the first place? When McCarthy was questioned, his response was, “Because it’s never been done.”


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