Stupid Question ™
Feb. 11, 1999
By John Ruch
Q: How much does the Empire State Building weigh?
—Lucas A. Gualtieri
A: One way of describing the weight of New York City’s most famous building is that it’s equal to about 1.46 billion big apples.
As you’ll see, that’s no more silly and fantastical than any other way of weighing the world’s fifth-tallest skyscraper.
The building opened in 1931 and was the world’s tallest building for 40 years. It was also one of the last buildings of its height (around 1,200 feet) constructed with heavy stone masonry.
According to an Empire State Building spokesperson and independent researcher John Tauranac, the building weighs 365,000 tons.
For comparison, the biggest space shuttle and its rockets weigh only 1,565 tons. The Eiffel Tower weighs a mere 8,045 tons.
The tallest skyscraper in the Western world (and the second-highest on the planet)—Chicago’s Sears Tower—weighs only 222,500 tons.
All very dramatic, but what does it mean?
Lydia Ruth, public relations director for the Empire State Building, said that the 365,000 ton figure includes all building materials and an estimated 26,000 occupants, but no furnishings. Despite this weird precision, Ruth couldn’t cite a source for the figure.
In his 1995 book “The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark,” Tauranac says the 365,000 ton figure came from original architect Richmond Shreve. When I called Tauranac and asked him when and where Shreve said this, he couldn’t remember.
“Not to be cavalier about it, but I don’t think anybody’s going to quibble with you,” he said.
“I’m not sure it’s possible to calculate,” said Carol Willis, director of New York’s Skyscraper Museum, noting that architects calculate only loads and stresses. It’s not how much the building weighs, but how much it can support, which is always much more than its own weight. This includes the massive forces of wind, which may result in thousands of tons of pressure.
Still, there’s no doubt that the Empire State Building is one massive building. It actually turned out six inches shorter than expected because the weight compacted the steel support beams. And when a 10-ton bomber crashed full-speed into the Empire State Building in 1945, the building merely shook a couple times.
Detailed construction supply lists tell us the steel frame alone weighs 57,480 tons. There’s 35 tons of caulk in this thing, for Pete’s sake.
Using these lists and averages of the Empire State Building’s own attendance figures, and calculating with known weights and guesses both educated and wild, I’ve come up with my own weight for the building.
Surprise—it’s even higher than the official number. My calculator says 392,942.25 tons.
Or 1.57 billion big apples.