The History behind the picture: "Lunch atop a skyscraper"

  Wikimedia Commons  // Fair Use

Wikimedia Commons // Fair Use

Manhattan. 1932. 

The Rockfeller Center is under construction. 11 workers are eating at the 69th floor of the future building on a metal beam feet floating 240 meters above the ground.

This picture taken during the Great Depression is different from the shots of those years that mostly captured the suffering of the nation. This photography is indeed showing that America, despite the big crisis, is still building, progressing and working. But there is a reason for that.

You can think that this iconic photography was a snapshot but in fact it was taken only for publicity purposes.

Yes, the workers were real workers but the shoot had been organized to promote the soon to be Rockfeller Center building and to sell offices.

This is what brings the second important fact about this photography: as several photographers were there for the event, we are still not really sure who was the author of the photography. For a while the credit of the image was given to Charles C. Ebberts but the owner of the picture, the Bettman Archive, finally attributed it to the "unknown".

If you want to know more about this photography you can watch the documentary called Men at lunch that has been presented at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013. It explores all the aspects (technical, historical and social) of the "Lunch atop a skyscraper".