Excavation of the site began on January 22, 1930, and construction on the building itself started on March 17. The project involved 3,400 workers, mostly immigrants from Europe, along with hundreds of Mohawk nation iron workers. According to official accounts, five workers died during the construction.
The construction was part of an intense competition in New York for the title of the world's tallest building. Two other projects fighting for the title, 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building, were still under construction when work began on the Empire State Building. Both would hold the title for less than a year, as the Empire State Building had surpassed them upon its completion, just 410 days after construction commenced. The building was officially opened on May 1, 1931 in dramatic fashion, when United States President Herbert Hoover turned on the building's lights with the push of a button from Washington, D.C..