Lunch Atop A Skyscraper: The Story Behind The 1932 Photo

There are photos that have become timeless and iconic since they captured a moment and an atmosphere that marked history. One of those pictures came into existence in 1932, capturing a unique moment in American history. The image was taken by an unidentified photographer and was captioned “Lunch atop A Skyscraper” in the New York Herald-Tribune.

The photo reflected both the undeterred American optimism and the careless exploitation of lower-class immigrants at the time. The picture portrayed the building’s construction, and the workers appearing nonchalant about the dangerous safety measures was a recipe for an iconic photograph. The photo depicts 11 unidentified workers having lunch, chatting, taking a smoke break, and even sleeping on scaffolding beams suspended hundreds of feet in the air. The picture’s power is in capturing the workers’ jocularity and ambient shiftiness despite their apparent carelessness in the face of danger.

Upon research, historians believe that ‘Lunch atop A Skyscraper’ was taken on 20th September 1932, during the Great Depression when the country struggled economically. Thirty Rockefeller Plaza was the building in the construction process during that time. The construction of the building was a breeding ground for prosperity and employment opportunities but also exploitation and discrimination. Construction workers were mainly poor immigrants who had no rights or protection. Life meant nothing to them, but the money they earned enabled them to sustain their families. The photo speaks of that era – when immigrants worked and struggled to build the country’s elite infrastructures yet were invisible or disregarded in mainstream American society.

The men in the photo remain anonymous to this day, contributing to the photo’s mystery. They may have been steelworkers, carpenters, or masons, but nobody knows for sure. Despite this, these ordinary men, through the image, have become extraordinary and iconic. Their bravery and lack of fear continue to inspire people to take risks, overcome their fears, and strive towards greatness.

For nearly nine decades, people have tried to replicate this iconic photograph in almost every corner of the world. There have been countless reproductions, spoofs, and even a high-budget, award-winning movie titled “Men at Lunch” based on this photograph. It only goes to show the impact that this photograph has had globally.

The ‘Lunch atop A Skyscraper’ photo has undoubtedly stood the test of time, gaining recognition from various quarters on a global scale. It remains an iconic photograph, riddled with mystery and fascination, encapsulating that particular moment and era in American history. It tells the story of immigrant laborers whose efforts and bravery helped shape the country yet whose struggles and discrimination are often overlooked. This photo’s impact is undoubtedly massive, inspiring people to take risks and strive towards greatness despite the risks and uncertainties.

Ali Kaya


Ali Kaya

This is Ali. Bespectacled and mustachioed father, math blogger, and soccer player. I also do consult for global math and science startups.

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