We thought we’d take a look at one of history’s most famous welding ventures: the iconic Empire State Building…
Reaching for the stars
Most major construction projects ground to a halt in the wake of the Great Depression, putting the majority of welders out of work. The exception to this was the introduction of skyscrapers in New York, where business tycoons were engaging in a race towards the clouds and enlisting the help of thousands of welders in the process. This mission to build the world’s tallest structure culminated in the creation of the Empire State Building.
Dangerous work conditions
You may have come across photos like this before: workers perched on steel beams hundreds of feet in the air, without a safety harness in sight and seemingly undaunted by their distance from the ground. As extraordinary as this looks now, it was just part of the bargain back then: workers would put their lives on the line in return for approximately double the pay they were used to. It turned out they became so adept at working in these conditions that only 2 deaths were attributed to falls (a minor miracle).
These stats lead some people to romanticise this era, calling it “the good old days” without “all this health and safety nonsense”. However, even if they were able to avoid falling, the absence of PPE meant welders on the Empire State Building were certainly damaging their eyes, ears and lungs with no available recourse to protect themselves. Welders are certainly better off living in a time when proper safety equipment is available and adequate precautions are taken, even if it may mean less impressive photos!
Rapid work rate
With the economy so precarious, welders were desperate to satisfy their employers and ensure their job stability. As a result, they completed their work at an outrageously prolific speed, most notably when 14 floors were erected within a 10-day period! On average, 4½ stories were being built every week, where previously the fastest rate of construction for a project of this scale had been 3½ stories a week. This is especially surprising when you factor in the amount of work (bolting, screwing, riveting) that had to be done exclusively by hand.
When all was said and done, the Empire State building stood at just under 1500 feet, having been finished in only 410 days (12 days ahead of schedule). Despite since being surpassed as the world’s tallest building, it’s still recognised as an incredible feat of engineering: one that couldn’t have been achieved without some decent welds!
1) Welding Supplies from IOC: 3 of the World’s Biggest Welding Projects (www.weldingsuppliesfromioc.com/blog/3-of-the-worlds-biggest-welding-projects)
2) Top Floor: The History of the Modern Skyscraper (www.throughouthistory.com/?p=957)