The Skyscraper Museum is devoted to the study of high-rise building, past, present, and future. The Museum explores tall buildings as objects of design, products of technology, sites of construction, investments in real estate, and places of work and residence. This site will look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.


(c) John Bartelstone

Eighty thousand incandescent bulbs illuminated the New York night on April 24, 1913, when the Woolworth Building opened with a ceremony as fantastic as the structure itself. President Woodrow Wilson pressed a button in the White House that simultaneously lit every interior floor and the brilliant tower beacon. Witnessed by multitudes and wired to press around the world, the spectacle was a career-crowning achievement for the tower's owner, the five-and-dime store king Frank W. Woolworth, who paid for the skyscraper with his personal fortune and took a hands-on role in every decision of its design.

Honored by Woolworth that night at a dinner for 800 dignitaries was the tower's architect Cass Gilbert. Years earlier, Gilbert had defined the skyscraper as "a machine to make the land pay," but with the Woolworth Building, he aspired to elevate the tower beyond the realm of real estate to the status of a civic monument. In an era when great New York monuments communicated as much through the abundance of ornament as through their ambitious scale, the Woolworth Building represented an artistic achievement of the highest order.

The "Cathedral of Commerce" became the dominant silhouette on the New York skyline and took the title of world's tallest office building. At 792 feet to the tip of its spire, the skyscraper was a marvel of early 20th-century technology and a masterpiece of the architectural arts. This exhibition examines the achievements of its designers and builders-from the advanced technology of its engineering and construction to the extraordinary abundance and intricate variety of its handmade terra-cotta ornament.

The Woolworth Building celebrates its centennial year in the process of conversion, with office space remaining in the main base and luxury residences planned for the upper tower. Still radiant on the lower Manhattan skyline, the landmark heralds both the past and future of New York.