World Trade Center: Twin Towers History

A history of the Manhattan landmark destroyed on September 11, 2001

The Twin Towers, as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge

Buyenlarge / Archive / Getty Images

The two identical 110-story "Twin Towers" of the World Trade Center officially opened in 1973 and went on to become New York City icons and key elements of Manhattan's famous skyline. Once home to almost 500 businesses and approximately 50,000 employees, the World Trade Center towers were tragically destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Today, you can visit the World Trade Center site's 9/11 Memorial Museum and memorial to learn more about the attacks and for personal contemplation (and also admire the newly built One World Trade Center, which opened in 2014), but first: Read on for a brief Twin Towers history of Manhattan's lost icons.

Views of the World Trade Center (both of its twin towers still under construction) and Manhattan skyline views taken from New Jersey shore
Bettmann/Getty Images 

Origins of the World Trade Center

In 1946, the New York State Legislature authorized the development of a "world trade mart" in downtown Manhattan, a concept that was the brainchild of real estate developer David Sholtz. However, it wasn't until 1958 that Chase Manhattan Bank vice chair David Rockefeller announced plans to build a multi-million-square-foot complex on Lower Manhattan's east side. The original proposal was for only one 70-story building, not the final Twin Towers design. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agreed to oversee the building project.

Protests and Changing Plans

Protests soon arose from residents and businesses in the Lower Manhattan neighborhoods slated for demolition to make way for the World Trade Center. These protests delayed construction for four years. Final building plans were eventually approved and unveiled by principal architect Minoru Yamasaki in 1964. The new plans called for a World Trade Center consisting of 15 million square feet distributed among seven buildings. The standout design features were two towers that would each exceed the Empire State Building's height by 100 feet and become the world's tallest buildings.

Building the World Trade Center

Construction of the World Trade Center towers began in 1966. The north tower was completed in 1970; the south tower was completed in 1971. The towers were built using a new drywall system reinforced by steel cores, making them the first skyscrapers ever built without the use of masonry. The two towers – at 1368 and 1362 feet and 110 stories each – bested the Empire State Building to become the tallest buildings in the world. The World Trade Center – including the Twin Towers and four other buildings – officially opened in 1973.

A New York City Landmark

In 1974, French high-wire artist Philippe Petit made headlines by walking across a cable strung between the tops of the two towers using no safety net. The world-famous restaurant, Windows on the World, opened on the top floors of the north tower in 1976. The restaurant was hailed by critics as one of the finest in the world and offered some of the most breathtaking views in New York City. In the South Tower, the public observation deck called "Top of the World" offered similar views for New Yorkers and visitors. The World Trade Center also starred in many movies, including memorable roles in Escape from New York, the 1976 remake of King Kong, and Superman.

Tribute in Light
Wojtek Zagorski / Getty Images

Terror and Tragedy at the World Trade Center

In 1993, a group of terrorists left a van loaded with explosives in an underground parking garage of the north tower. The resulting explosion killed six and wounded more than a thousand, but caused no major damage to the World Trade Center. Sadly, the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, caused much greater destruction. Terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center towers, causing massive explosions, the destruction of the towers, and the deaths of 2,749 people. Today, the World Trade Center remains a New York City icon, years after its destruction.

Updated by Elissa Garay