Famous Historical Photographs: Lunch Atop A Skyscraper

The twentieth century was filled with advances in photography. Owing to the work of George Eastman and other photography pioneers, photography became accessible to everyone. It also began to make its way into the world of news as news photographers and reporters collaborated on capturing both the image and the moral of the story. Some images capture both the good and the hard times that were to be had in the turbulent twentieth century. One of these iconic images is Lunch Atop A Skyscraper taken in 1932, during the Great Depression, in New York City.

Lunch Atop A Skyscraper
New York City of the 1930s was a city of contrasts. Both booming in some manners, it was also one of the centers of the Great Depression. When the Depression struck in 1929, New York City was hit hard as the financial industry began to collapse around it. Still, with the Dust Bowl wreaking havoc on crops in the Midwest, many people continued to travel to New York in search of jobs that would not be disrupted by Mother Nature’s whims. As the Depression dragged on, men would take any job they could find — even if it were extremely dangerous. Safety harnesses and ropes were uncommon for the construction workers of the 1930s as can be seen in this photo.

Many agree that Lunch Atop A Skyscraper was per-arranged and not a spontaneous image captured by a photographer who just happened to be on the scene. The workers in the photograph are sitting on a girder on the 69th floor of the GE building, 840 feet above the street. The men photographed were real construction workers working to build the RCA building (later renamed the GE building). However, the image of them sitting with their feet dangling from the 69th floor girder as they enjoyed their lunch break is thought, by many, to have been arranged between the photographer Charles C. Ebbets and the Rockefeller Center in order to promote the newest skyscraper to grace the New York city skyline.

Had you been there in that day and age, would you have joined in a photo opportunity such as this one?

— da Bird