32¢ The Empire State Building
Celebrate the Century – 1930s
Issue Date: September 10, 1998
City: Cleveland, OH
Printed By: Ashton–Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed, engraved
In 1799, New York City sold a tract of farmland to John Thompson for $2,600. Over the next 132 years, the property would pass through many famous hands. That is, until 1931, when President Herbert Hoover turned on the Empire State Building’s lights from Washington, D.C., officially announcing its opening.
Preliminary plans for construction of the Empire State Building began during the 1920s, when the site was home to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Excavation began in January of 1930, and construction began in March. Workers were building the structure’s frame at the rate of 4 1/2 stories each week. It took one year and 45 days – including Sundays and holidays – to complete the building, which then was the world’s tallest. During the peak construction period, 3,400 men were on the job. During this time, Lewis Hine was commissioned to take photographs of the men at work. To capture shots of workers in precarious positions, like the one on the front of this cover, he was swung out in a specially designed basket 1,000 feet above Fifth Avenue.
The Empire State Building has 102 floors, 73 elevators, and 6,500 windows. At 1,472 feet, it was the world’s tallest building until 1972, when the first tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan was built.
Birth Of Alfred E. Smith
Alfred Emanuel Smith was born on December 30, 1873, in New York City, New York.
Smith’s father was a Civil War veteran who had fought with the 11th New York Fire Zouaves. When Smith was 13, his father died, after which he dropped out of school to work at a fish market to help support the family.
Smith never returned to school but claimed he had learned a lot about people by studying them while working at the fish market. Smith was also a talented actor and found some success in amateur theater.
Smith first entered politics in 1895 as an investigator in the office of the Commissioner of Jurors. From there he began working his way up the ranks of the Democratic Party. He based his campaigns around his working-class background, aligned himself with immigrants, and said he was a man of the people.
In 1904, Smith was elected to the New York State Assembly, where he served until 1915. In that role, he worked with Frances Perkins to improve factory conditions, serving on a state commission to investigate and improve the situation. The work of this commission helped to initiate new modern labor laws and increased safety protocols. Smith was then elected President of the Board of Aldermen of the City of New York in 1917.
Then in 1918, Smith was elected governor of New York. His opposition to publisher William Randolph Hearst cost him re-election in 1920, but he managed to win back his seat again in 1922, 1924, and 1926. His campaign manager and ally was James A. Farley (future postmaster general made famous through Farley’s Follies).
Smith was a staunch anti-prohibitionist and soon became known around the country for his progressive policies aimed at making the government more efficient and effective in meeting the needs of the people. Under his leadership, New York improved its laws on worker’s compensation, women’s pensions, and children and women’s labor.
In 1924, Smith ran for president with support from fellow New Yorker Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt called Smith “the Happy Warrior of the political battlefield.” However, Smith was unable to earn his party’s nomination, and immediately began plans for the 1928 election. In that election, he would win the party’s nomination but lose the election. Many people opposed Smith because he was a Roman Catholic and because he opposed prohibition. It was during this time that he also broke with Roosevelt, and would run against him in the 1932 election. In the coming years, Smith was highly critical of Roosevelt’s New Deal policies.
Outside of politics, Smith served as president of Empire State, Inc., overseeing the construction of the Empire State Building. During World War II, Smith spoke in support of Roosevelt’s plan to change the Neutrality Act to allow cash and carry sales of war equipment to the British. For his support, Roosevelt said “Very many thanks. You were grand.”
Smith died at the Rockefeller Institute Hospital on October 4, 1944. Many buildings in New York were later named in his honor, as well as parks, a fireboat, and a military installation.