One would wonder how so many buildings could be constructed during the Great Depression of 1929. The answer is that the money was already allocated years earlier for these projects. Subsequently, massive construction commenced between 1929 and 1932 to build such art deco iconic structures as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center.
The famous photograph “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” is indicative of this construction period. The building where these workers were on is the GE Building at Rockefeller Center, then called the RCA building. It is also where NBC Studios are located, Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and where the TV show 30 Rock got its name.
Many of the men who volunteered to take these construction jobs, especially the ones depicted in this photo are mostly of Irish descent, but there is talk that some might have been from Sweden as well. The most popular steel workers of the time however were the Mohawk Indians who were given the name “Sky Walkers” and worked on many New York City buildings.
During this period, millions of people were out of work and were prepared to take any job in order to support their families. With that said, the men photographed in “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper”, as well as thousands of others who took on these projects were no doubt fearless of heights. Since there were no laws governing the safety of hard hats in those days, these men took their lives in their own hands, but were successful in building some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world.