The Empire State Building’s airship terminal

The Empire State Building was not supposed to be just the tallest skyscraper in the world; its planners also wanted it to have a dirigible docking station at the very top. 

empirestatebuilding1 It was the late 1920s, and the grand new world of aviation was upon us. With that in mind, the idea was to have a dirigible dock at the building’s spire. Passengers would somehow disembark at the 102nd floor, where an elevator would whisk them down to the street.

But building planners forgot to factor in wind. After the Empire State Building opened in 1931, one dirigible did try to land there to test it out; it didn’t work, and the whole slightly ludicrous idea was scrapped. The spire became the dock for a broadcast tower in 1953. 

This postcard is part of the Walker Evans collection currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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11 Responses to “The Empire State Building’s airship terminal”

  1. Justin Bieber Says:

    Awesome, too bad the time of airships passed so quickly. I think they would still be useful even today.

  2. Matt P Says:

    Wind has always been the airship’s nemesis, and always will be. Could possibly be overcome, though

  3. The lost future of the Empire State Building’s 102nd floor | Twitchhiker Says:

    […] in the sky and docking at skyscrapers. The top floor of the ESB was therefore intended to be an airship terminal for passengers. Unfortunately, skyscrapers were also a relatively new concept, and little research had been done […]

  4. 10 curiositats sobre New York (II) | Nou a New York Says:

    […] HowStuffWorks,, Aerospaceweb, i una bona dosi de Wikipedia. Fotos via: NYMag, Ephemereal New York i un parell de Nou a New York. Comparteix:Entrades relacionades:Resum setmanal del twitter (IV)Amb […]

  5. Green daisy Says:

    I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to disembark! What were they imagining, a zip line?!

  6. focusoninfinity Says:

    It was 1949 or 1950, I was age six or seven; in our New Jersey classroom, over the then still-black, “blackboard”; was a big picture of two new, grand American passenger ships, passing mid-ocean. Outside, at recess recreation; if not my first joke, it was the first joke I remember:

    “The Big Moron, and the Little Moron, were both standing on top of the Empire State Building.

    “The Big Moron fell off; why didn’t the Little Moron fall off?

    “Be-caussssssse, he wassssss, a-LITTLE-MORE-ON.”

  7. Christine Rotgers Says:

    Thank you for stating that the blimp mooring to the Empire State Building was”slightly ludicrous”. I would label it “insane” or possibly “really stupid”! How are passengers supposed to exit the blimp or dirigible? An escape chute 102 stories in the air? Really now, how stupid can people get?

  8. Mike Says:

    I wondered about disembarking too. This Wikipedia entry contains an account of how this was done in the UK. Zeppelins, as it turns out, had a long gangplank/catwalk that was winched up to the underside of the zeppelin. This catwalk was lowered to the railing of the passenger platform atop the mast and you would then walk from the passenger cabin down the catwalk to the platform.

    The UK version of a mooring mast described in this article had a railing that would mate to wheels on the catwalk so that it was possible to use it even as the wind swung the zeppelin around the mast.

    The Empire State mast was probably similar, the real problem I should think would be the enormous mind-over-matter involved with getting passengers down the catwalk to the platform at that altitude, though uniformed crew could have escorted them and that might have solved that problem. But wind would still be a huge problem, both in terms of moving the airship too much and passenger safety using the catwalk. Too bad, it sure looked cool in Fringe!

  9. Mike Says:

  10. Mo Says:

    Terrorists would have destroyed it for sure

  11. Two magical views of the Brooklyn Bridge at night | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] planning to dock at the top of the Empire State Building; that idea didn’t exactly pan out when it was proposed in the 1920s as the building was under […]

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