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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Birth of the Skyscraper Romantic Symbols
The World's Tallest Buildings
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Romantic Symbols
The World's Tallest Buildings
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This idea of building the world's tallest building really catches on, especially with corporations that wanted to use the skyscraper as a means of advertising. Sometimes a skyscraper could be built not for the economic viability of the floors but because of the economic value of having the world's tallest building and having a building that was very noticeable on the skyline.

This is the Singer Building. It was, of course, the headquarters of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which was one of the companies that revolutionized advertising. They knew how to market those sewing machines so that every woman in America was going to want one, and in particular, they would want to have a Singer sewing machine.

The Singer Building was begun in 1902 and finished in 1908. It was designed by a very prominent architect named Ernest Flagg, who had studied architecture in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts, and was a very sophisticated and talented designer. He worked with Singer on several buildings, and Singer told Flagg that they wanted to build the world's tallest building. They built this very slender tower on a low base. The base of the building, which is only about ten stories tall, was really where the Singer company's offices were located. The tower was a marketing tool. It is so small that the floors could never have been a great profit source for Singer. There was not a lot of rentable space on these floors. They had to have elevators, toilets, and public halls, and that took away from the space, and they were left with only a minimum amount of rental space. But that is not why Singer built this building with its distinguished top, recognizable by any who saw it. This building stood out on the skyline. When you saw the building you thought "Singer." The Singer name would be on your mind. So this was, for a very brief period, the world's tallest building. It was completed in 1908 but it only was the world's tallest building for one year. In 1907, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company began construction of a building on Madison Square, just about one block from the Flatiron Building, which they wanted to be the world's tallest building. It was finished in 1909, the year after the Singer Building was finished. It, too, was not only the world's tallest building but was an advertisement for Metropolitan Life. This building appears on Metropolitan Life's letterhead, and in their advertising. Beams of light shone out from the tower of the building at night and Metropolitan Life became known as the light that never failed. The light was the light on the building. The building had the world's largest four-faced clock so that again you would be looking to see what time it was and where would you be looking? At the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's tower, so you would buy life insurance from Met Life and not from Equitable, which, of course, had already used architecture as an advertisement some decades earlier.


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