How Many People Died Building the Chrysler Building?

January 28, 2024

When automobile tycoon and financier Walter Chrysler bought the site of the future Chrysler Building, his plan was to build an office skyscraper that would define his company, the New York skyline, and the very concept of a skyscraper. The Chrysler Building was the world's tallest structure when it was completed in 1930, claiming that title with a spectacular steel spire.

Designed by architect William Van Alen, the Chrysler Building's sleek lines and Art Deco styling was meant to show the public the grandeur of Chrysler's empire. The design featured elements like gargoyles modeled on Chrysler cars and other auto products, and the skyscraper's slanted east building wall followed the Manhattan street grid at a slant, rather than a straight line as in many other buildings of its time.

Construction began in 1928 and the building was finished in 1930. The tower's spire was added in November 1929, making it the world's tallest building, and it held that distinction for 11 months until the Empire State Building was completed.

While Chrysler was the financial kingpin of his day, many of the people who helped him build the Chrysler Building were not exactly wealthy. In fact, the 1920s saw huge disparities in wealth, with wealthy industrialists using architecture to demonstrate their status and the power they felt they rightfully accrued from a system of American capitalist production that often came at the expense of low-wage workers.

One of the key players who made the Chrysler Building a success was Fred T. Ley, the general contractor for the project. Ley was a no-nonsense building professional who brought the vision of Van Alen to life. He forged ahead with the steel frame, curtain wall construction, and other innovative techniques that would make the building famous.


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