Why Does the Empire State Building’s Light Change Colors?
A defining feature of the New York City skyline since 1976, the Empire State Building lights have captured the world’s imagination for decades maintaining a tradition of changing the color of the lights to recognize important occasions, holidays, events, and organizations throughout the year.
When it opened in 1931, the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world. At 1,454 feet tall, it has 102 floors. Visitors still stand in awe of the Empire State Building’s size. However, its most striking feature may not be its height. It’s the building’s tower lights that draw the most attention.
The Empire State Building’s tower first lit up in November 1932. As New Yorkers watched the sky, they saw a white beam of light. This told everyone in a 50-mile radius that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been elected President of the United States. Originally, the tower used a single searchlight. Later, it upgraded to revolving beacons. In 1977, a new lighting system was installed with 500 lamps. Another renovation in 2012 installed 68,000 LED bulbs to light up the tower!
Today, the tower’s light also changes colors. This happened for the first time in 1976. That year, colored floodlights shone red, white, and blue in celebration of America’s bicentennial. Those floodlights allowed the tower to shine in nine different colors. Since 2012, the building has used LED bulbs, capable of displaying more than 16 million colors.
With all those choices, how do they decide which color the Empire State Building should be every day? Well, some days are easy. For example, the tower always lights up in red, white, and blue for American holidays like July 4 and Memorial Day. However, other days are harder to decide. There’s an application people can fill out if they’d like to see the Empire State Building light up in honor of a holiday or cause.
The chosen events are then put on a calendar. For instance, the lights were red, white, and green on September 15, 2018, to honor Mexican Independence Day. They shone blue and white for the eight days of Hanukkah in 2018. They even lit up in blue and yellow on October 25, 2018, in honor of Lights On Afterschool!
Some days, the Empire State Building doesn’t light up at all. In these cases, it’s honoring a tragedy. The tower was dark on July 9, 2018, for those experiencing intense flooding and landslides in Japan. This happened again on September 18, 2018, to honor those affected by Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut.
Recently the tower went dark on 1st & 2nd June 2020, in recognition of the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, who was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an arrest. Otherwise, the Empire State Building Lights up every day from sunset until 2 am.