7 Famous Must-See American Skyscrapers


The world’s first skyscraper was built in Chicago in 1885. Since then, Americans have been working to build higher and higher into the sky, creating some of the country’s most historic and impressive feats of architecture. Today, many skyscrapers around the country are popular attractions for tourists, along with being functional buildings for residents. These seven skyscrapers are ones you cannot miss. 

Empire State Building

The Empire State Building. Reprinted from New York City Skyscrapers by Richard Panchyk (pg. 92, Arcadia Publishing, 2010).

This 102-story skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan, New York City is an iconic tower of the New York skyline. It was completed in 1931, and for 40 years was the tallest building in the world. As of 2019, it is the fifth tallest building in the United States. Observation decks on the 86th and 102nd floors offer visitors an unforgettable view of Lower Manhattan. Since its construction, the Empire State Building has become a cultural iconic, appearing in famous movies like King Kong. It’s been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and has been designated a city landmark. 

One World Trade Center

Considered the tallest skyscraper in the United States, New York City’s One World Trade Center stands at 1,776 feet tall. The height was an ode to the year that the Declaration of Independence was signed. It was built near Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers were destroyed by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Construction began in 2006, and completed in 2013, with the One World Observatory opening in 2015. Today, visitors can ride the bullet elevator to the top for a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline. 

Willis Tower

Sears Tower. Reprinted from Sears in Chicago: A Century of Memories by Val Perry Rendel, courtesy of Walter Kadlubowski (pg. 97, The History Press, 2019).

Formerly known as the Sears Tower, the Willis Tower in Chicago, Illinois was the tallest building in the United States upon its completion in 1973. Today, it is one of Chicago’s most popular tourist attractions, and is home to corporate offices of some of the country’s most prominent companies, like United Airlines and Morgan Stanley. Like the Empire State Building, the Willis Tower has appeared in films like The Dark NightI, RobotMan of Steel, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Transamerica Pyramid

The Transamerica Pyramid is an eye-catching tower in the San Francisco skyline. When it was completed in 1972, it was the tallest building in the city, standing at 853 feet. Unlike most skyscrapers in America, the base of the Transamerica Pyramid is surrounded by a park. Redwood Park contains a handful of planted redwood trees famous to the state of California. Filled with grassy areas, benches, and sculptures, the park is a favorite for visitors and residents alike. Since its inception, the Transamerica Pyramid has become a symbol of the city of San Francisco, and it welcomes visitors to explore its grounds.

The John Hancock Center

The John Hancock Center. Reprinted from The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival by Ellen S. Farrar, courtesy of the Great North Michigan Avenue Association (pg. 24, Arcadia Publishing, 2008).

The John Hancock Center stands today as the fourth tallest building in Chicago. Inside are several restaurants, businesses, and apartments. It holds the third-highest residence in the world, trailing the Burj Khalifa and Trump Tower in Chicago. On the 95th floor is a restaurant where diners can gaze out onto Lake Michigan. From the sky deck, visitors can see up to 80 miles away on a clear day, look into four states, and get a 360 degree view of the city. 

Union Square

Unlike the other skyscrapers on this list, Union Square in Seattle consists of two buildings. One Union Square is a 455-foot tower, while Two Union Square is a 797-foot tower. The former finished construction in 1981, while the second was completed eight years later in 1989. The two towers are home to several large American corporations including Apple Inc., Morgan Stanley, The Lyman Group, and more. Together, they mark an iconic section of Seattle’s skyline.

Chrysler Building

The Chrysler building. Reprinted from New York City Skyscrapers by Richard Panchyk (pg. 89, Arcadia Publishing, 2010).

New York City’s Art Deco-style skyscraper was the world’s tallest building for eleven months before the Empire State Building concluded construction. Architecturally, the Chrysler Building is uniquely known as tallest brick building in the world made with a steel framework. When work was complete, there were mixed reviews about its design. Some called it lazy and unoriginal, while others argued that it was modernist. Today, the Chrysler Building is considered one of the most iconic buildings in America for its architectural style. 

For decades, American architects having dared themselves to reach further into the sky, creating expansive and impressive feats of modern design and engineering. In most major cities around the country, there is an iconic skyscraper that the skyline would be incomplete without. These projects never cease to enthrall their visitors, whether it be from their design to their sheer height. From New York City to Seattle, these are just some of the nation’s most famous skyscrapers worth visiting.