Is the “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” photo a fake?

Whether in a motivational poster or in a book of historical photography, there’s a good chance you’ve caught a glance of the photo titled, “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” that depicts construction workers precariously yet casually perched on a steel beam while haphazardly enjoying a break from work.  While we’re quick to write this photo off as a piece of clever photo editing, the photo appears to be the real McCoy. Though not a fake, there is more to this photo than meets the eye.

Who are the construction workers in “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper”?

For a little bit of background, the “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper” is real. On September 20, 1932, hundreds of feet above 41st Street in Manhattan, 11 iron construction workers posed for a photo on a break from helping to construct Rockafeller Center (now known as the GE Building) — seemingly oblivious to how dangerous their actions were. Were these workers completely numb to the danger? Was vertigo not a concept yet? While it’s unknown of the true fear felt by the workers, the exaggerated comfort of the workers was, in fact, staged. The construction workers, identified as several Irish immigrants, knew they were being photographed to drum up publicity for the construction of the building. Because they knew they were being photographed (which was then a much less common occurrence), they undoubtedly hammed up their lax attitude. Historians’ attempts to identify the workers have been mostly unsuccessful, but many argue that the men’s anonymity is what sells the image. These men could have been anyone, thus making them a representative of everyone. Just as they did then, they continue to represent the hardworking American spirit.