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When you go to big cities, do you often find yourself gawking upward in amazement at the skyscrapers surrounding you?
That’s what I often do when I find myself in the concrete caverns of places like New York City — which has one of the highest concentrations of skyscrapers in the world.
What Is A Skyscraper?
The definition of the term skyscraper has changed over the years.
In the late 19th century, a “skyscraper” was any steel-frame building 10 stories in height or taller.
The first building to meet this definition was the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, which was built in 1885. It originally had 10 stories and rose 138 feet before the addition of 2 floors in 1890.
Today, a skyscraper generally describes a building that is 40 stories tall or more and/or measures 150 meters, or 492 feet in height.
With the rise in enormous skyscrapers around the world — such as the half-mile-tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai — 2 more building classifications have emerged:
- Supertall — a skyscraper that stands 300 meters tall, or 984 feet
- Megatall — a skyscraper that is 600 meters tall, or 1,969 feet
While there aren’t any megatall skyscrapers in the United States yet, there are many supertall skyscrapers in the good ‘ol U.S.A.
The 10 tallest skyscrapers in the United States are all in New York City and Chicago — 2 of the cities traditionally linked with skyscraper innovation.
Here are the top 10 skyscrapers in the United States:
#1 – One World Trade Center, New York City
Standing 1,776 feet tall, One World Trade Center stands not only as the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere, but also a symbol of pride, hope, and rebirth.
One World Trade Center opened to the public in 2014 after 8 years of construction.
Ground was broken on the iconic tower 5 years after the 9/11 terror attacks that demolished the original World Trade Center in New York City and killed nearly 3,000 people.
The Twin Towers, which stood 1,362 feet (South Tower) and 1,368 feet tall (North Tower), were dedicated on April 4, 1973 — though they weren’t the only buildings in the original WTC complex.
There were 4 other, lower buildings in the original complex that was built throughout the 1970s, with the last structure, a Marriot Hotel (3 WTC), completed in July 1981. WTC 7, which stood just to the north of the original superblock, was finished several years later in May 1987.
While just 1 large tower replaces the bulk of the office space lost during the 9/11 attacks, other buildings are still being constructed in the new World Trade Center complex.
Fun fact: On a clear day, you can see more than 50 miles from atop One World Observatory.
#2 – Willis Tower, Chicago
When it was built in 1974, it became the tallest building in the world for more than 20 years, taking the title from the Twin Towers of New York City’s World Trade Center.
Sears Roebuck and Company sold the building in 1988 when they moved their headquarters to suburban Chicago, but the 110-story building retained the Sears name until British firm Willis Group Holdings bought the skyscraper in 2009.
If you want to take in a bird’s eye view of Chicago, you can visit the observation deck at the Sears Tower.
The Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor. If you dare, you can walk 4 feet out over the streets of Chicago on a glass ledge. It’s not for the faint of heart!
Fun fact: The skyscraper’s 4.56 million square feet of gross area would cover 105 acres — or 16 blocks — in downtown Chicago.
#3 – Empire State Building, New York City
There’s perhaps no skyscraper more iconic than the Empire State Building.
Built in 1931, the Empire State Building, located in the heart of the Big Apple, has been a soaring testament to American skyscraper technology for several generations.
During the depths of the Great Depression, the Empire State Building became the world’s tallest building.
While the original World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, just a few miles to the south, briefly overtook the record of the world’s tallest building in 1970, while the towers were still being completed.
The Empire State Building was built in just 11 months, a lightning fast pace as compared to the much slower speed with which modern-day skyscrapers are normally built.
While the Empire State Building was built quickly, it certainly wasn’t built shoddily.
It withstood the impact of a B-25 Mitchell bomber, which crashed into the building near the 79th floor in 1945. 11 people were killed, and flames spread throughout the several floors.
You can take a trip up to the 86th-floor open-air observation deck, which rises 1,050 feet above the streets of New York City. There’s also an observatory on the 102nd story, 1,224 feet above the Big Apple. The tip of the 102-story skyscraper measures 1,454 feet in height.
Fun fact: Researchers at Cornell University have determined the Empire State Building is the most photographed building on Earth.
#4 – 432 Park Avenue, New York City
There’s one building in New York City that many people may have seen but probably know little about: 432 Park Avenue.
It’s the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere.
The 96-story, 1,396-foot-tall building rises high above the Manhattan skyline like a 93-foot-wide matchstick.
432 Park Avenue beats the height of the Empire State Building by nearly 150 feet, not counting the older building’s antenna. It even rises 28 feet taller than One World Trade Center’s main building.
While you can stand on Park Avenue and look upward toward the top of 432 Park Avenue, visitors aren’t allowed to trek up to building’s observation deck — it’s for residents only. Besides, looking from the street is free anyway!
Fun Fact: The penthouse suite at 432 Park Avenue costs $95 million. Talk about million-dollar views!
#5 – Trump International Hotel and Tower, Chicago
Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago is a 5-star accommodation that was completed in 2009.
Topping out at 1,389 feet, including its spire, and offering 98 floors of refined hotel and condominium space, Trump International Hotel and Tower is a glitzy spectacle rising high above other Windy City landmarks, including the John Hancock Center.
Much to the chagrin of many tourists, Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago doesn’t offer a public observation deck.
Fun fact: For a brief while after opening in 2009, Trump Tower Chicago held the record for having the world’s highest residence. That lofty record was soon relinquished to Burj Khalifa.
#6 – Bank of America Tower, New York City
The 1,200-foot-tall Bank of America Tower in New York City stands as the Big Apple’s 3rd tallest building, when including the architectural spire.
While the building is more a commercial epicenter than a tourist attraction, the Bank of America building still attracts plenty of gawkers.
Fun fact: This eco-friendly skyscraper incorporates some of the most innovative sustainable construction features in the world. For example, the building’s waterless urinals save 8 million gallons of water per year alone, and 83% of construction waste was recycled.
#7 – Aon Center, Chicago
The Aon Center in Chicago was completed in 1973, and for a brief while was the tallest building in Chicago, until the nearby Sears Tower was topped off months later.
The 1,136-foot, 83-story Aon Center originally opened as the Standard Oil Building, serving as that company’s headquarters.
In 1985, the structure was renamed the Amoco Building upon that oil giant buying the skyscraper. The building was later sold to an investment firm called Blackstone Group in 1998 and soon given its current Aon name.
Fun fact: The Aon Center features a tubular-frame structure that resists shaking in earthquakes and minimizes swaying in the wind. This is the same construction method that was utilized in building the Twin Towers of the New York City’s original World Trade Center.
#8 – John Hancock Center, Chicago
The John Hancock Center in Chicago rose to the heavens over Chicago in the 1960s, before the buildings that became the Willis Tower and Aon Center did the same in the 1970s.
The John Hancock Center, which was completed in 1969, has earned icon status in the Chicago skyline and remains one of the top tourist draws today.
Visitors can take a gander over the Windy City at 360° Chicago, an observatory 1,030 feet up on the building’s 94th floor.
Fun fact: Get bored looking out a window? Take a ride on the Tilt — an innovative ride that tilts you 30 degrees over the side of the John Hancock Center!
#9 – The New York Times Building, New York City
The headquarters for the famous New York Times newspaper, the New York Times Building skyscraper stands 1,046 feet over Manhattan.
The New York Times moved around to several locations throughout the city before settling down at its grandiose digs near Manhattan’s Times Square in 2007.
This video provides a wonderful visual history of the New York Times Building:
Fun fact: The building stands as the 5th tallest in New York City and is tied in height with the Chrysler Building, also located in Manhattan.
#10 – Chrysler Building, New York City
The Chrysler Building was finished in 1930 and stood as the world’s tallest building until — you guessed it — the Empire State Building surpassed the Chrysler Building in height on April 30, 1931.
The Chrysler Building is perhaps most notable for its Art Deco architecture, a style that was en vogue during the 1920s and 1930s but still has a timeless elegance.
During planning phases, the finished height of the Chrysler Building was revised from 807 feet to a more monumental 925 feet.
The architectural spire on top of the building boosts its overall height to an even more impressive 1,046 feet — as earlier referenced, that’s the same height as the New York Times Building.
Fun fact: The building’s 197-foot-tall spire, which weighs 300 tons, was installed in 4 separate pieces in just 90 minutes on October 23, 1929.
More About Skyscrapers
- The Skyscraper Museum In New York City
- Council On Tall Buildings And Urban Habitat
- The Skyscraper Center
- 100 Tallest Completed Buildings In The World
- Skyscraper Page
- How Skyscrapers Can Save The City
I’m a Florida native, a roller coaster junkie, and a frequent traveler. (Long road trips are my favorite.) Born and raised in Tampa, I grew up visiting Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. I authored the book Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: Images of Modern America, which details the colorful history of the Busch Gardens theme park. As a local historian, I’ve also written about other popular landmarks and attractions for a variety of publications. Here, on this Travel Guide, I like sharing little-known facts and fun stuff about all the places I’ve been — so you will have a good idea of what those places are like and what you should know before you go. I especially enjoy helping others plan fun trips… on a budget!