Mankind has always had the desire to build things bigger and taller. More often then not, it was a way for someone to show wealth and power of either a person, or a civilization. Throughout history there has been no shortage of big things built, The Colosseum, the pyramids and the Great Wall of China for example. But it wasn’t until the 1800’s that buildings started to get taller. The main reason for this was elevator safety.
Bottom line, the elevator technology at the time had no backup plan if the cable were to break and they were only using steam power to raise and lower the carts. IF a cable broke, well then there wasn’t much that could stop the cart from crashing into the ground. In 1853, Elisha Graves Otis developed a safety device that would hold the cart if the cable were to break. That and the fact that they started using electric motors to control the carts made elevators a lot more practical and started to be used for people rather than just for supplies for mining and construction purposes.
The other thing that allowed mankind to start building upward is the materials that became available as technology improved. One perfect example of this, and what arguably started the skyscraper movement, was the great fire of Chicago in 1871 that burnt a great portion of of the wooden buildings of Chicago. When it came time to rebuild, they realized they had a lot more people and not enough land space to move anywhere else, architects had to re-evaluate the way they had built buildings up to that point. Because they had things available to them like steel and concrete they figured out that they could just make the building taller to accommodate more people. By using the new building materials and using a grid of steel columns to support the weight of the floors above them and any wind or earthquake that mother nature could throw at it, the race for the world’s tallest building began.
One of the first buildings to use this new technology was the Chicago Home Insurance building that stood at an impressive 10 stories tall in 1885. By the early 1900’s, people started to make these ridiculously tall buildings strictly for promotional items to increase name recognition. One of the places this was most obvious was Manhattan. When the Metropolitan Life Insurance tower was finished in 1909 it was a mind blowing 50 stories (700ft) tall and was the tallest building in the world for a short period of time until the Woolworth Building was finished in 1913. The Woolworth stood at 60 stories tall (792Ft) and remained at the top of the list until 1928 when the highly decorated Chrysler Building was finished at a whooping 77 stories tall (1046ft). But the Chrysler building didn’t hold onto the record for long though, The Empire State building was also being built at the same time as the Chrysler building. The Empire State building had raised the bar all the way to 102 stories tall, that is 1,250 feet off the ground!
The Empire State Building would hold the record for 41 years until 1972 when the World Trade Center twin towers were completed with a total of 110 stories reaching over 1/4 mile into the sky. Two years later however, New York lost its title of holding the world’s tallest building when the Sears Tower was completed in Chicago at a mind blowing 1,450 ft tall, almost 100 feet taller than the twin towers. Now I was able to go to the Sears Tower as a kid and ride the super fast elevator all the way to the top observation deck and even as a kid I remember being blown away as to how high up we were and how crazy it must have been to build something like this. If you leaned up against the window like they did in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it was the most exhilarating experiences that everyone must do at least once in their lifetime.
The Sears Tower held the record for 24 years before the title for the world’s tallest building distinction left the United States and hasn’t looked back since. The record went to the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at a staggering 1,483 feet tall and stayed there until 2004 when the Taipei 101 was completed in Taiwan and stood at 1,670ft tall being the first building to clear 1,500 ft, something thought impossible just years before. Taiwan only held onto the record for a short six years before it left to where it currently resides, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Now we all know that Dubai is known for doing things over the top, and they definitely did not disappoint with the Burj Khalifa. This building is an almost unbelievable 2,716 ft tall, which is over 1,000 feet taller than the Taipei 101! The Burj Khalifa has many mind-blowing facts about it; it cost upwards of $1.5 billion to build it, it has almost 20 acres of glass, and it uses 250,000 gallons of water per day. There is supposed to be a building called the Jeddah Tower that’s being built and is said to reach the one kilometer mark, which would be right around 3,280ft tall. Apparently they wanted to build it a mile into the sky but the ground in Saudi Arabia wasn’t capable of supporting a building of that magnitude. One thing is for sure though, as technology increases and building materials continue to get lighter and stronger than whats being used now I think in our lifetime we will see building reaching the mile mark. Even though I’m more of a mountain kind of guy, I think that is pretty cool.