One of the most celebrated landmarks in the world, the Empire State Building, is adorned with one of the most magnificent exterior lighting systems in the world. The Lighting Display of the Empire State Building, as it brightens up the night, draws crowds of amused tourists and New Yorkers. It’s also enjoyed from afar by the residents of neighboring New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. From a rich pallet of colors, a few are chosen to mark a special event or occasion.
Below is a brief history of the tower lights:
1932: The first light to shine atop the Empire State Building (November, 1932) was a searchlight beacon to mark the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt to the office of president of the United States.
1956: Revolving beacons, the "Freedom Lights", were installed. The "Freedom Lights", four beacons each five feet in diameter and weighing one ton, were installed 1,095 feet above the streets to symbolize not only a welcome to this country but also the unlimited opportunities in America and the hopes and prayers of the American people for peace. They could be seen as far away as 300 miles in the air and 80 miles on the ground.
1964: The top 30 floors of the building were illuminated by a new series of floodlights in April transforming the Empire State Building into a nighttime landmark to coincide with the beginning of the New York World's Fair.
1976: Colored lighting was first introduced by Douglas Leigh. The tower was lit in red, white and blue in celebration of the American Bicentennial.
1977: A lighting system, permitting a wider range of colors, was inaugurated on October 12, when blue and white lights flashed to announce that the Yankees had won the World Series. The installation of 204 fixtures utilizing metal halide lamps, plus 310 fluorescent lamps, light the building from the 72nd floor to the base of the TV antenna.
Plastic gels were fitted manually over the metal halide lamps, or floodlights, and colored plastic sleeves were fitted over the fluorescent tubes in a variety of color combinations to honor national holidays and events of interest to New Yorkers. The lamps create candle power of 1,000 watts each. This system uses less energy than the original system, thus complying with energy conservation programs.
1984: Automation of fluorescent color-changing apparatus in the uppermost mooring mast. Designed by Douglas Leigh, 880 vertical 75 watt fluorescent tubes in the mast and 220 horizontal fluorescents at the base of the mast can now be changed at the flick of a switch. There are four vertical banks of eleven 8 foot panels positioned one on top of another. Each of the 176 panels contains five tubes and each tube is a different color: red, green, blue, yellow, and white. Additionally, at the base of the mast, there are 44 newly installed panels of horizontal fluorescents, also containing 5 tubes each, totaling 220 tubes. A new ring of 32 high pressure sodium vapor lights, 70 watts each, above the 103 rd floor, was installed to create a golden "halo" effect around the top of the mast from dusk to dawn.
Days Celebrated: In addition to the regular lighting schedule, various special occasions such as the Yankees and the Mets winning the pennant and/or World Series, the homecoming of troops from Operation Desert Storm and similar one-time events. White lighting is used between holidays and events.
During spring and fall bird migration seasons the tower lights are turned off to prevent the birds from crushing into the building.