The Empire State Building: 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know

Whether you’re visiting New York City for the first time, or you have visited it on a thousand and one different occasions, the Empire State Building is a landmark that will always make you stop for a second and be aware of the most amazing fact of all: you’re in NYC!

As if we didn’t already love the Empire State Building enough, it turns out that there are a lot of fun, and even wacky, facts about it. Read on to discover some things about this historical landmark that will make you look at it in a different light next time you visit.

Empire State Building during sunset on a cloudy day
Impress your friends and family with fun facts about the Empire State Building when you visit New York’s classic landmark. Photo credit: Finn

It was originally supposed to have a dirigible anchor

Originally, the 17-story spire was supposed to be a dirigible anchor and passenger gate. 

The current top observation deck (at 1,250 feet!) is enclosed. But, in the original plans, it was an outdoor platform where passengers loaded on and off transatlantic dirigibles parked over midtown.

After high winds nearly led to catastrophe, the plan was abandoned.

Empire State Building drawing with a dirigible
Could you imagine skipping traffic on a dirigible ride? Photo Credit: Don Harrison

The construction work of the Empire State Building was not easy

According to official accounts, five workers died during the construction of the building. 

There are also plenty of stories surrounding the construction work of the building, as well as many unofficial accounts that point to higher numbers. 

What we’re sure of is that it wasn’t a job for people scared of heights.

Old photography of the construction of the Empire State Building
You have surely seen many construction work photos of the Empire State Building. Photo credit: Lewis Hine / Jim Trodel

It has a Guinness World Record you won’t want to beat

On July 28, 1945, a B-25 bomber that was lost in fog slammed into the north wall of the 78th and 79th floors. Fourteen people were killed (it was a Saturday, so many offices were empty). 

Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a plunge of 75 stories inside an elevator, the Guinness World Record for the longest (survived) elevator fall recorded. She went on to live a long and prosperous life.

There was no important structural damage to the building, which opened for business on the following Monday.

Sunset in New York City
The Empire State Building has a lot of history since its construction. Photo credit: Roberto Vivancos

A person that jumped out of and back in the Empire State Building

Over the years, more than 30 people have committed suicide by jumping from the top of the building. The fence around the observatory terrace was put up in 1947, after five people tried to jump during a three-week span.

Something surprising happened In 1979, when Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor, only to be blown back onto the 85th floor and left with only a broken hip. Unfortunately, the most recent death occurred in 2011, when a 21-year-old Yale University junior leapt from the Observation Deck.

Lightning strikes the Empire State Building during night
With so much history, it’s of course natural that the Empire State Building is full of stories of all sorts. Photo credit: Dan Nguyen

It’s a famous icon for many different films

On a happier note, the Empire State Building has been the setting for many classic (and contemporary) films, including An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle, and, of course, the climactic scene of King Kong (1933 and 2005).

Think about it. Even if you’re not from New York, don’t you feel like it has that familiar feeling once you get there.

Replica of King Kong over the Empire State Building
That’s why even the tiniest details are highly recognizable to us, aren’t they? Photo credit: Joe de Sousa

Over 4 million people visit the Empire State every year

The Observation Deck attracts 4 million visitors a year and generats millions more in profits…while the owners made little, if any, money on the office space. 

Let’s just say, you won’t be the only person visiting the #1 U.S. attraction. But that’s ok, you can definitely find less touristy spots with the Ultimate Greenwich Village NYC Food Tour before or after your visit.

Empire State Building Observation Deck
It might get a little crowded up there at some points. Photo credit: Lisha Riabinina

There’s an annual race inside the building

The Empire State Building Run-Up was a foot race from ground level to the 86th floor observation deck held annually since 1978. There was a brief hiatus due to the pandemic, but in 2023 it made its return.

The race covers a vertical distance of 1,050 ft (320m) and takes 1,576 steps. The record time? Nine minutes and 33 seconds, achieved by Australian cyclist Paul Crake in 2003. 

Are you feeling lucky? Train hard and that is a record that you can definitely try to beat. This prestigious race is, after all, the world’s first and most popular race to happen…well, within a building.

person stretching and preparing for a race
You’ll have to train a bit before signing up for this race, that’s for sure. Photo credit: Andrea Picquadio

The building is struck by lightning an average of 100 times per year

And that’s a sight worth seeing, no doubt. Of course, the building is prepared for this and nothing too dangerous happens thanks to its safety measures. 

If you’re in NYC on a rainy day, make sure to look up or, even better, get yourself to a good, cozy location where you can enjoy the lightning show. 

Empire State Building by night with lights
Any minute, now… Photo credit: Timo Wagner

It’s a romantic spot all year round

Every year, the building holds a Valentine’s Day Weddings contest in which 14 couples are selected to get married on the observation deck. Valentine’s Day at the Empire State can be also be a special plan, even if you don’t get married at such an extraordinary location.

Bridesmaids cheering up for a wedding
Getting married in the Empire State Building’s observation deck is a unique experience. Photo credit: Jonathan Borba

The Empire State is a certified green building

With its gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental design) rating, granted in September 2011, the Empire State Building is the tallest LEED-certified building in the United States.

This means it’s a healthy, highly efficient, cost-saving green building and it’s constantly looking for ways to improve and contribute to the city it is such a fundamental part of.

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Update Notice: This post was updated on November 13, 2023.

After the Empire State Building, check out other iconic NY landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and continue discovering what makes this city such a memorable and extraordinary place!

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About the author

Fiona's an Irish travel writer who has made New York City her home for the past 10 years. While she frequently returns to Dublin, she's captivated by the vibrant food, diverse people, and rich culture of NYC. Fiona's passion for travel extends beyond NYC and her homeland—she frequently explores new destinations, documenting her adventures and sharing her lively stories.

More by Fiona F.

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