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Friday, November 12, 2010

A Literal Crash on Wall Street: November 12, 1929

Everyone knows about the Wall Street crash of October 1929 that triggered the Great Depression. But there was another, much more literal crash a couple of weeks later. Eighty-one years ago today, one of the great skyscrapers races of all time was coming to a close: The Bank of the Manhattan Company at 40 Wall Street was topping out and thus becoming the tallest building in the world. But an hour before the ceremonies, Wall Street was a scene of chaos.

As The New York Times reported, crowds were gathering around noon for the ceremonies to mark the completion of the world's tallest structure when "a half-ton block of limestone fell from the thirty-fifth floor of the new seventy-story building of the Bank of the Manhattan Company, crashed through the roof of the eighth-story setback down to the fifth floor and scattered debris over the street below."

Luckily, only three people were mildly injured in the accident. A woman in a parked car was cut when a piece of debris shattered the car's window; a steamfitter was struck by a piece of scaffolding in the shoulder; and a young office clerk crossing Wall Street had his leg cut by a shard of granite. As one police officer noted at the scene, "it was miraculous that no others were injured."

One the dust had settled and the injured persons treated at the scene or sent to the hospital, the work of topping out the building commenced. About an hour later the highest piece of structural steel was put atop 40 Wall Street--and, as the papers duly noted the next, it had become the world's tallest building.

Just four days later, the truth would be revealed: the Chrysler Building on 42nd Street had already surpassed 40 Wall Street's height. (You can read our more detailed entry about the skyscraper race from last year for further details.)

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Read more about the race between the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street in

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