Skyscraper Wars: The Petty Battle For the World's Tallest Building

Skyscraper Wars: The Petty Battle For the World's Tallest Building

By the late 1920s, rich people were getting really bored. Illegal booze, jazz parties, and generally Great Gatsbying it up wasn't doing it for them anymore, so they decided to start chasing world records. Specifically, in 1929, banker George L. Ohrstrom decided to build a 47-story skyscraper that would be called the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building, but then he heard about automotive mogul Walter Chrysler's plans to build the 808-foot Chrysler Building, which would be the tallest building in the world. Ohrstrom's architect, H. Craig Severance, drew up new plans for an 848-foot building, and the race was on.

Both were determined to the point of mania, rushing their crews to finish in a frankly alarming period of time just to be the world's tallest building for even a minute. By April 1930, both buildings were completed, but then Severance started getting paranoid. The crew at the Chrysler Building were getting all these weird, unexplained deliveries, so even though the BMT was planned to be the taller of the two, he decided at the last minute that they needed some insurance in the form of a 35-foot lantern and 50-foot flagpole, topping the building out at 925 feet.

He was right to be worried. Chrysler had an ace up their sleeves: a 175-foot spire that was built in secret inside the building and mounted in 90 minutes at the very end of construction, putting the Chrysler Building at over 1,000 feet. It might very well be the most expensive physical manifestation of "What now, bitch?"


And it was all for nothing. Within a year, the Empire State Building thrust its 1,250-ft dong into the sky, having been similarly built at a rate of a floor a day, apparently just to put that Chrysler asshole in his place. By then, the Great Depression had kicked off in earnest, and half of its 102 floors just sat unused, earning it the nickname "the Empty State Building" and proving that rich people will literally build a useless skyscraper instead of going to therapy.

Top image: Misterweiss/Wikimedia Commons

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