Fatalities During the Construction of the Empire State Building

Last updated: July 14, 2023

As one of the most iconic landmarks in the world, the Empire State Building stands as a testament to human achievement and the spirit of New York City. However, its construction history is not without tragedy. This article aims to delve into the fatalities that occurred during its construction, a subject often overshadowed by the building's grandeur.

Construction of the Empire State Building

Construction of the Empire State Building

The construction of the Empire State Building was an enormous undertaking. The project began in March 1930 and was completed in April 1931, taking just over a year, or more precisely, 410 days​. At the time, it was the tallest building in the world, standing at 1,454 feet tall with 102 floors​​. The construction was performed at a record pace, with as many as 3,400 men working each day to assemble its skeleton at a rate of four and a half stories per week​​.

Fatalities during Construction

The construction of the Empire State Building was a remarkable achievement in architectural and engineering terms and came at a human cost. According to official records, five people died during the building's construction, which spanned just over a year from 1930 to 1931.

The causes of these fatalities varied, illustrating the multitude of dangers present on a construction site, particularly one of such an unprecedented scale:

  1. Struck by a Truck: One of the construction workers was killed in a truck accident. The specifics of this incident are not detailed in the records, but it underscores the dangers posed by heavy machinery on construction sites.

  2. Fall Down an Elevator Shaft: Elevator shafts, while crucial to functioning a skyscraper like the Empire State Building, pose significant risks during construction. One worker tragically lost his life by falling down an elevator shaft.

  3. Killed by Explosives: Using explosives is sometimes necessary for large-scale construction, particularly in groundwork and foundation laying. Unfortunately, these explosives killed a worker on the Empire State Building site.

  4. Struck by a Hoist: Hoists, used to lift and lower heavy loads, are another common feature of construction sites. In this case, a worker was fatally struck by a hoist, highlighting yet another peril faced by those building the Empire State Building.

  5. Fall from Scaffolding: The final recorded fatality was a worker who fell from scaffolding. Given the immense height of the Empire State Building, falls from such heights were, unfortunately, often fatal.

These tragic incidents are a stark reminder of the risks inherent in construction work, particularly on projects of this magnitude. They also underline the importance of rigorous safety standards and procedures in protecting those who work to build our cities' architectural marvels​​.

Additional Noteworthy Incidents

While several fatalities marked the construction of the Empire State Building, its long and storied history also includes other significant incidents that are worth noting:

1. B-25 Bomber Crash (1945): On the morning of July 28, 1945, amid heavy fog, an Army B-25 bomber got disoriented and crashed into the 78th and 79th floors of the Empire State Building. The crash caused a significant explosion, leading to the deaths of the three crew members on the plane and 11 people within the building. The incident also resulted in a significant fire, the highest building fire in New York's history, although it was extinguished in just 40 minutes​​.

2. Elevator Plunge Survivor: A remarkable survival story emerged in the same incident involving the B-25 bomber. Betty Lou Oliver, a 19-year-old elevator operator, survived a 75-story plunge in one of the building's elevators. The fall was cushioned by a pile of severed elevator cables and possibly slowed by a pocket of compressed air created by the car's rapid descent. Oliver survived this extraordinary incident despite severe injuries, including a broken neck and back​​.

3. Suicide Jumpers: Over the years, the Empire State Building has tragically been the site of numerous suicides. More than thirty people jumped to their deaths from the building. The high number of incidents led to the installation of suicide prevention barriers and increased security measures​.

Each of these incidents, while drastically different, adds to the complex and varied history of the Empire State Building, marking it as a site of triumph and tragedy.

The Empire State Building Today

Today, the Empire State Building remains a marvel of modern architecture and a symbol of New York City. It is home to over 1,000 businesses and provides approximately 150,000 square feet of space​. It's a tourist magnet featuring observation decks that offer expansive views and a unique annual event, the Empire State Building Run-Up, where participants race up the stairs to the 86th floor​​.

Despite its tragic past, safety measures have been significantly improved to ensure the security of workers and visitors. The building is monitored round the clock with security technology, and visitor screening procedures similar to airport security are in place​​.


The construction of the Empire State Building represents a significant moment in architectural history. Yet, it's crucial to remember the human cost associated with its creation. The five lives lost during its construction serve as a stark reminder of the dangers construction workers face, even as we marvel at the grandeur of the finished product. Today, the Empire State Building stands as an architectural wonder and a testament to the strength and resilience of those who built it.

The Empire State Building's history, both the impressive and the tragic, contributes to its status as a symbol of New York City and a beacon of human achievement. It's a monument that embodies the city's spirit - its ambition, resilience, and respect for the past while reaching for the future.

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