A captivating black and white shot of the iconic Empire State Building standing tall against the New York City skyline, enticing the viewer to ponder the worth and grandeur hidden within its architectural beauty.

How Much Did The Empire State Building Cost To Build?

The Empire State Building is one of the most iconic skyscrapers in the world. Towering over the Manhattan skyline at 1,454 feet tall, this 102-story Art Deco tower has captured the imagination of people worldwide since it first opened its doors in 1931.

But how much did it actually cost to construct this architectural marvel back in the early 20th century?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: the Empire State Building cost approximately $41 million to build in 1931, which equates to around $663 million in 2024 dollars when adjusted for inflation.

The Planning and Design of the Empire State Building

The Original Architectural Vision

The Empire State Building was designed in the Art Deco style by the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon. The original vision was to create the tallest building in the world, which would serve as a symbol of America’s economic strength even during the Great Depression.

The lead architect William Lamb drew inspiration from previous skyscrapers like the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, but wanted to take things to the next level with the Empire State Building.

Some key elements of the original architectural design were:

  • A tapered tower rising to 102 floors and 1,250 feet tall, capped by an observation deck and mooring mast for airships.
  • Distinctive setbacks or terraces on the higher floors, allowed by New York City zoning laws. This gave the building its iconic wedding cake shape.
  • Stainless steel, limestone, and granite cladding on the exterior walls for an Art Deco style facade.
  • Ornate lobby drenched in marble and gold. Materials that exuded luxury, despite the constraints of the Great Depression.

The architects carefully considered how to orient and engineer the building for optimal lighting, views, wind bracing, and infrastructure access. Though ambitious, the Empire State Building’s original design focused on efficiency, utility, and blending style with the practical realities of a supertall structure.

Sourcing Materials and Manpower During the Great Depression

The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 created immense challenges for sourcing the materials and labor needed to construct a 102-story skyscraper. However, the Empire State Building’s architects and builders managed to find ways to acquire what they needed.

Some strategies they used included:

  • Using mass-produced, standardized building materials from around the country, which minimized specialty fabrication costs.
  • Salvaging and recycling materials like rails and exterior limestone from other demolition sites in NYC.
  • Sourcing deals on materials like granite and carpeting due to the economic downturn.
  • Tapping into unemployment relief programs initiated by the city and state to find able-bodied workers.
  • Offering jobs to skilled immigrant craftsmen, who brought expertise from the old world.

In the end, the Empire State Building directly employed up to 3,400 people at a time during construction. Though challenging, enough material and manpower came together to erect this iconic skyscraper in just over a year – a remarkable feat even by today’s standards.

Construction Costs for the Empire State Building

Land Acquisition

The land that the Empire State Building sits on was originally acquired by William Waldorf Astor in the late 19th century for around $2 million. This was a large sum at the time, but prime real estate in downtown Manhattan.

By the time the land was sold in 1929 to Empire State Inc., a group assembled specifically to construct the building, its value had increased substantially to $14 million. This demonstrates how sought-after land in central Manhattan has been for decades.

Raw Building Materials

The sheer scale of the Empire State Building required vast amounts of raw materials for its construction in the early 1930s. Over 10 million bricks, 730 tons of aluminum and stainless steel, 200,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone and granite, and 60,000 tons of steel went into building the framework and façade according to official statistics.

The total cost of materials used ended up reaching about $22 million. Fortunately, prices dropped during the Great Depression which helped keep material costs under control.

Construction Labor

At its peak, over 3,400 laborers worked on constructing the Empire State Building. They were paid moderate wages, especially due to the economic conditions at the time. Total labor costs reached nearly $13 million by the time construction was completed in 1931.

This figure could have been much higher, so the timing of the build during the Depression actually helped save enormously on the pivotal workforce expenditure by some analysis. Still, the sheer manpower required was immense at the time.

Interior Finishing and Decor

While raw construction claimed the lion’s share of total costs, the lavish Art Deco interior finishes and decor of the Empire State Building also represented a heavy expenditure. Custom bronze moldings, stunning marble walls and floors, glamorous gilded accents, and imported European furnishings contributed to a luxurious feel.

The lobby alone cost over $2 million according to historical records. Some estimate total finishing costs pushed $25 million. But for decades it has contributed to the structure’s international prestige.

The Total Final Cost of the Empire State Building

Cost Overruns During Construction

The Empire State Building was constructed between 1930 and 1931. Initial estimates put the cost of construction at $50 million, however the final cost ended up being much higher due to complications and overruns (source).

One major issue was the incredibly fast-paced schedule. The whole building was completed in just over one year, which led to increased costs for overtime pay and additional crews to keep on schedule. The tight timeline also resulted in sacrifices in safety – five workers died during construction.

There were also many changes to the original plans during construction. Upgrades like making the building taller and adding more floors drove costs up. Developers had to pay extra for these substantial design changes.

In total, it’s estimated that the Empire State Building went 60% over the initial $50 million budget, bringing the final construction costs to around $40 million when adjusted for inflation to 2024 dollars (source).

The Building’s Valuation at Completion

When the Empire State Building was finished in 1931, it was valued at $52 million including the cost of the land it was built on. That is over $900 million in 2024 adjusted for inflation (source).

Therefore the skyscraper ultimately cost nearly double original estimates to construct. However it was still seen as a valuable investment – the building brought in over $2 million in rent revenue in its first year, which would be over $30 million today.

Additionally, the Empire State Building further increased in appraised value over the next several decades after its completion, indicating it was a financially wise long-term investment despite high initial costs.

Today it is valued at over $2 billion, cementing its status as one of New York City’s most iconic buildings (source).

Adjusting for Inflation: 1931 Dollars vs. Today’s Dollars

Calculating the Empire State Building Cost in Current Dollars

When the Empire State Building was completed in 1931, the final construction cost totaled $40,948,900. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator, adjusting for inflation, that equals over $640 million in 2023 dollars.

To understand the magnitude of this figure, comparing the original 1931 construction costs to costs of major construction projects today provides helpful context:

  • The One World Trade Center in New York City, completed in 2014, cost roughly $3.9 billion.
  • The Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, completed in 2018, cost $1.1 billion.
  • The Wilshire Grand Center skyscraper in Los Angeles, completed in 2017, cost around $1.2 billion.

Adjusted for over 90 years of inflation since 1931, the Empire State Building’s construction costs are far below these recent projects. In fact, the inflation-adjusted cost of the Empire State Building is less than 20% of the One World Trade Center’s price tag.

Building Completion Year Construction Cost
Empire State Building 1931 $640 million (in 2023 dollars)
One World Trade Center 2014 $3.9 billion

Several factors contribute to the immense difference in raw construction costs between 1931 and today:

  • Labor expenses were far lower in the 1930s compared to contemporary rates.
  • Building materials and construction methods have advanced dramatically, leading to higher costs.
  • Modern building projects adhere to more stringent regulations and building codes.

The Empire State Building contractors also benefited from effects of the Great Depression in keeping labor costs low due to high unemployment at the time.

However, calculating for inflation provides the most direct comparison of monetary values over many decades. By this measure, the feat of constructing a 102-story skyscraper for under $41 million in 1931 dollars seems incredibly economical by today’s standards.

Some estimates project that replicating the architecture and materials used to build the Empire State Building today could cost over $2 billion. Even accounting for the difference in height and square footage, building a similar structure would run at least five to ten times higher than the inflation-adjusted figure.

So while over $600 million remains an enormous sum, analyzing the costs in context gives perspective on how the makers of the Empire State Building managed to complete one of the world’s architectural icons at a price tag far below what it would require today.


In the end, the feat of constructing the world’s tallest building in just over a year for around $41 million was an incredible achievement. Adjusting for nearly a century of inflation, that equates to over $660 million in today’s dollars – a testament to the vision, ingenuity, and hard work that went into creating an Art Deco masterpiece that remains a global icon.

So next time you’re walking down 5th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan and you crane your neck to glimpse the towering spire and shining steel of the Empire State Building, remember that this legendary skyscraper cost around $41 million at the time – or over half a billion in today’s dollars!

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