10 Remarkable Photos Show Early Skyscrapers Taking Shape

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Martin Duckworth / National Film Board of Canada / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Martin Duckworth / National Film Board of Canada / Getty Images

Skyscrapers have become a normal part of city life. It’s easy to walk past them and forget the vast effort that went into building them. The following photos show just that effort. Captured at various stages in time, they show the construction of some of the world’s best-known architectural marvels and the often death-defying feats that those who built them performed hundreds of meters above the ground.

The first tower

Construction worker in a hard hat standing in front of a half built tower.
Photo Credit: Archive Photos/ Getty Images

One of the construction laborers who was working on the Twin Towers can be seen walking in front of one of the buildings while they were under construction during the 1970s. Little did he know that this New York site would become one of the most famous locations in world history only 30 years later.

View across the river

View across a river looking at the half build World Trade Center.
Photo Credit: Hulton Archive /Getty Images

The same site can be seen from a different angle across the Hudson River. This photograph is marked as the first of the two towers to be built at this New York location in the 1970s.

Sky high

Man sitting on a piece of wood high above a cityscape.
Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images

That certainly wasn’t the first or last skyscraper to be built in New York City. This photo, taken on October 23, 1929, shows one of the earlier ones. Captured here is Michael Borsh, a veteran skyscraper builder of 27 years, as he sits eating his sandwich 800 feet above the ground on what would become the Chrysler Building.


Blindfolded man walks across a wooden beam high above a cityscape while his friend watches on.
Photo Credit: George Rinhart/ Corbis Historical/ Getty Images

If you think that Borsh was a daredevil, you ain’t seen nothing yet. This 1920 photo shows Sig Smith and Lillian Hart on another under-construction skyscraper. They decided to test their luck by walking across the scaffolding blindfolded while about 20 stories above the New York City streets.

A precarious perch

Two workers stand on a metal rung beside a series of cables, high above a city.
Photo Credit: General Photographic Agency/ Hulton Archives/ Getty Images

Smith and Hart might have had a choice about their death-defying deeds, but that wasn’t the case for the crew who built these skyscrapers. These two men can be seen working circa 1925 with a hoisting ball, an absolute necessity when it came to construction. To get an idea of just how high up they are, the background shows the Singer Building in New York City. It was the tallest building in the world from 1908 to 1909, with a height of 187 meters.

Early stages of the Empire State Building

Two men sit on a metal beam high above a city, while another stands to direct a crane into position.
Photo Credit: Science & Society Picture Library/ Getty Images

Another group can be seen here working with a hoisting ball but on a much more famous building. It might not look like it yet, but this team is helping construct the Empire State Building, circa 1931. These men are working to fix one of the beams. You know they’re high up because this was the tallest building in the city until 1970.

A lift to work

Group of construction workers stand on a crane as they get lifted up to work.
Photo Credit: General Photographic Agency / Hulton Archives / Getty Images

It’s all fine and well to see these brave construction workers on beams or managing equipment high above the city, but we don’t really think about how they got up there, especially in the 1920s. This photo shows exactly how. These men are, literally, getting a lift to work on one of the hoists that would later be put to use.

Painting the Eiffel Tower

Man hanging from the Eiffel Tower to paint it.
Photo Credit: Michael Putland/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

Once these skyscrapers are finally built, a brave few are still required to help maintain them. This workman can be seen painting the Eiffel Tower in October 1969. Even one of the most famous buildings in the world needs to be freshened up every once in a while.

A risky pose

Man standing on a metal platform of the Eiffel Tower leaning out to the side.
Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images

In fact, the Eiffel Tower has been painted more than once. This is a much earlier photo from July 29, 1924, which shows a crew of workers as they put the finishing touches on their repainting job. It’s clear just how high up they are from the streets of Paris stretching below, but that didn’t stop one of the workers from striking a daring pose for the photographer.

Lunch break

Two construction workers with hard hats on sit on scaffolding while they eat their lunches.
Photo Credit: Ben McCall/ FPG/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

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It wasn’t all work and no play while these monumental buildings were being built. Even the most dedicated crews needed a break from time to time. Here are two New York City workers who stopped what they were doing to have a quick lunch sometime in the 1950s. They each have a sandwich and thermos carried from home.