It’s not breaking news the NYC has some of the most historic and impressive skyscrapers in the world. It may surprise you, however, that for nearly 100 years this city was home to a continual chain of world’s tallest buildings, each one overtaking the last Manhattan superstructure. These 5 towering edifices each gave way to the next pinnacle of city and worldwide construction across two centuries until the rest of the world eventually caught up in the 1970s. Over those shining years, there was nowhere a person could rise higher than in New York City.
New York World Building
Years as world’s tallest: 1890-1894
Before the iconic Flatiron building showed the world the potential of constructing with steel, downtown’s Park Row hosted the world’s tallest (non-cathedral) building for four late 19th Century years: The New York World Building. These headquarters of the now-defunct eponymous newspaper towered above it’s lower Manhattan neighbors, and was the first structure to overtake the spire of Trinity Church, previously the area’s vertical apex.
Years as world’s tallest: 1908-1909
Before long, steel-frame construction pushed the old height limits into the stratosphere, and the age of skyscrapers was underway. One early NYC example that survives only in memory is the Singer Building, adjacent to what is now the World Trade Center complex in the Financial District. While it was only the world’s tallest for one year, this structure named for the sewing machine manufacturer stood until 1968, when it made way for One Liberty Plaza, in the process becoming the tallest building to ever be purposely demolished.
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower
Years as world’s tallest: 1909-1913
Lower Manhattan had long been the epicenter of sky-high construction, but as the 20th Century progressed, architects and business owners were looking further uptown to build their new cathedrals of commerce. Not to be confused with Park Avenue’s MetLife building, this Madison Avenue tower’s distinct spire exhibits its early-20th-century origins while bearing somewhat of a resemblance to the subsequent holder of the world-tallest-building crown, back on the southern end of the island.
Years as world’s tallest: 1913-1930
Completed just four years after the Metropolitan Life tower on 23rd Street, Lower Manhattan reclaimed the tallest building title thanks to this beaux-arts masterpiece towering above Broadway’s Canyon of Heroes, directly across the street from City Hall Park. While its ornate facade is still impressive over 100 years after it was built, the real attraction of the Woolworth Building is the ornately decorated lobby, with detailed mosaics within a cavernous vaulted ceiling.
Empire State Building
Years as world’s tallest: 1931 to 1970
Undoubtedly NYC’s most iconic building, the Empire State Building on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street has been an unmistakable symbol of the city’s spirit since it went up in 1931. This art deco masterpiece arose in an impressive 13 months, and immediately became a magnetic attraction for tourists and filmmakers alike. From King Kong to Sleepless in Seattle, the Empire State Building has captured imaginations worldwide, and been interwoven with the character of both city and country in a way unlike any other building could. Long overtaken as the world’s tallest, the ESB still stands high as an emblem of the promise and ambition of the people of New York.