William Le Baron Jenney, American architect and engineer, pioneered the use of metal-frame construction for large buildings. He used cast-iron columns encased in masonry to support steel beams bearing floor weights. Freed from bearing the load, outside walls could be filled with windows. Jenney's revolutionary construction method spurred the emergence of skyscrapers.
Finished in 1902, the Flatiron Building at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-third Street was Manhattan's first skyscraper, standing approximately 312 feet tall. In 1930, architect William Van Alen added the art deco Chrysler Building to the skyline. Inspired by cubist art and machine forms, he made the building rise in a series of narrowing arches to the stainless steel spire. His building competed for stature with The Bank of the Manhattan Company at Forty Wall Street (927 feet). Determined to win the height fight, Van Alen secretly had the spire launched through the finished crest, making his building taller by 121 feet. Its finished height measured 1,048 feet.
Even though it no longer holds the distinction of the tallest building, with its elegant art deco design, the Empire State Building is regarded as the quintessential American skyscraper. It featured prominently in the 1933 movie King Kong, where the creature climbed the Empire State Building (actually, he climbed a model used for the sequence).
In 1931, the Empire State Building was completed on Fifth Avenue, between Thirty-third and Thirty-fourth Streets, making it the tallest building in the world at that time (1,250 feet), 202 feet taller than the Chrysler Building. American architects in the firm of Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon streamlined the design. The structure's two-year completion was amazing not only because of its height, but also given the Great Depression. Indeed, the next challenge was to attract tenants.