Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > New York City History > 51. Lewis Hine

51.  Lewis Hine (1874-1940).  Welder, Empire State Building, New York. Photograph (40 x 49.3 cm.), 1930-1931. Avery Library, Drawings and Archives, Empire State Building Archive

At the time of its construction, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world, a fascination to everyone. As part of the publicity for the building, the Empire State Corporation hired photographer Lewis Hine to take photographs of the workers. Renowned for his social documentary of immigrants, child labor, and the poor and working classes, Hine was compelled by the economic realities of the Depression to take this advertising job. His photographer's eye was, however, unchanged by those realities and delivered an intimate and often heroic vision of American workers, published as Men at Work: Photographic Studies of Modern Men and Machines (Macmillan Company, 1932).

The Hine photographs are part of the Empire State Building archive. Included in this collection are over four hundred demolition and construction photographs taken during the razing of the Waldorf-Astoria and the building of the new skyscraper. There are more than twenty scrapbooks of news items collected by clipping services that document the publicity blitz promoting the building. Post-construction the publicity machine continued with the photographs of dozens of celebrities and political figures who found the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building the perfect photo opportunity.

Gift of the Empire State Building Corporation, 1971

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