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Depth to Bedrock and the Formation of the Manhattan Skyline, 1890–1915


New York City historiography holds that Manhattan developed two business centers—downtown and midtown—because the bedrock is close to the surface at these locations, with a bedrock “valley” in between. This article is the first effort to measure the effect of depth to bedrock on construction costs and the location of skyscrapers. We find that while depth to bedrock had a modest effect on costs (up to 7 percent), it had relatively little influence on the location of skyscrapers.

“Hour by hour the caissons reach down to the rock of the earth and hold the building to a turning planet.”

Carl Sandburg, Skyscraper

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Donald R. Davis , and E. Weinstein David . “Bones, Bombs, and Break Points: the Geography of Economic Activity.” American Economic Review 92, no. 5 (2002): 1269–89.

Edward L. Glaeser , Hedi D. Kallal , Jose A. Scheinkman and Andrei Shleifer . “Growth in Cities.” Journal of Political Economy 100, no. 6 (1992): 1126–52.

Sukkoo Kim . “Regions, Resources, and Economic Geography: Sources of U.S. Regional Comparative Advantage, 1880–1987.” Regional Science and Urban Economics 29 (1998): 132.

Sara B. Landau , and W. Condit Carl . Rise of the New York Skyscraper: 1865–1913.New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

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The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
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