The Crystal Palace
GLENN: I'm in New York City. My wife just said to me the other day, she said, "Honey, someday when the kids are all gone, you can retire and we'll just get a place and you can just give tours of New York City." And I said, "When the kids... when the kids are gone? I'll be dead before the kids move out of the house, for the love of Pete." She didn't take that well. Anyway... I love this city. I love, I love this city because I love looking at the buildings because I know the history behind many of the buildings, and I know why they were built in a certain way. I know why Rockefeller Plaza looks the way it does. I know that it was in response, it was the response of an architect that said, "I want to be an American architect. We just keep stealing architecture from other -- we're not ancient Rome. We're not Greece. We're not building Notre Dame. We're America. Let's have our own architect." That, that attitude is why we have Rockefeller Plaza, the Empire State building and the Chrysler building. Because they wanted to do something purely American and different. Wow. The Chrysler building, which is this beautiful iconic, silver building came from a guy who said, "I want people to look at this and I want them to see the future, I want them to know that Chrysler is the way to the future and I want it to look like a hood ornament." That's why it looks that way. And at the same time it was a battle of egos. There was another building being built at the same time and which one's going to be higher? Which one's going to be higher? What the guy who was thinking he was going to win didn't know is that the Chrysler building had the needle on top embedded inside of the building. So when it looked like it was done, the other guy finished his building and said, "Done. Tallest building in New York." That's when Chrysler said, "Crank it up." And that giant needle came out of the top of the Chrysler building. Fantastic! Fantastic. But right down the street from me there was a building I never even heard of before . It was one of the wonders of the world, let alone definitely one of the wonders of America. It was called the Crystal Palace. It was built in the 1800s as a monument to recognize America, Americans' industrial and technological accomplishments, and it -- well, we would never build a building like this today. It would never get off the ground.
Today we don't only vilify industry and capitalism but what they gave us as well. The combustible engine, the incandescent light bulb, Google searches, all killing the planet. The New York City Crystal Palace was built for the 1853 World's Fair. America wanted a building in the World's Fair that captured the promise of America. When the building was finished even the New York Times said this is commensurate with the great importance of the object and the spirit of progress of which our country's name forms a synonym. Wow. America and progress, the same thing. The New York Times.
The building was a challenge for engineers. A lot of people said it could never, ever be done, but the building was built and the world marveled. Took 1800 tons of iron and over 15,000 individual panes of glass that enclosed four acres of open space, four acres just shrouded in iron and glass. On the top of the building was a 123-foot dome. It was the highest constructed in America. It was 100 feet across. It was meant to showcase, this glass Crystal Palace was meant to showcase the innovations and inventions of industry, and it was one place everyone could come from all around the world and see what America had created, what we were on the verge of doing. The number of daily visitors in this Crystal Palace, they built hotels specifically because the Crystal Palace was such a draw. The number of visitors to the Crystal Palace to see America's future exceeded the population of many American towns and small cities on a daily basis.
What was there? Steam-powered rotary presses, positive film cameras, sewing machines, electric lamps that were still experimental, high-powered artillery, cotton gins. There was a 12-foot section of the 2,000-mile-long telegraph cable that was being at that time prepared to be laid beneath the Atlantic ocean to connect New York and London, and people at the time said this will never be done; you can't connect them. How are you going to put a telegraph? You're going to put that all the way across the ocean? "It will never happen." Twice a day a guy stood in what was known at the time as a magic box, and this magic box was being held up by ropes and cables and this magic box would start to go down and be lowered down by the ropes and the guy who was inside the magic box, he was the creator of it, he cut the ropes and the magic box stayed up. His name was Elisha Graves Otis. What was known as the magic box was the Otis Elevator. That was in the Crystal Palace, and the world came and marveled at American ingenuity.
October 5th, 1858, what was then the icon of New York burned to the ground. The floorboards inside were wood. They caught fire. The fire was so intense that the structure melted. Wait a minute. I didn't think that was possible. No conspiracy theories here. They weren't trying to cover up any kind of Enron records. The fire was so intense that it was nothing but a heap and pile of metal, most of it melted, and the glass had melted and fused together.
That may have been the end of the Crystal Palace, but it's not the end of the American capitalist story. Everything cooled, and a woman came by and said, "So what are we going to do with all of this stuff?" Said, "I don't know, it just is just cooling now." "She said, can I have it?" "What? What are you going to do with it?" "May I have it?" She took the pieces, cut them up into small pieces and sold them as souvenirs and now maybe something that has been passed down in generations in people's homes, sitting in museums, sitting some place in the Smithsonian is a piece of the Crystal Palace that is no longer here but was built as a monument to what Americans can do. By the way, now sitting on that land, a monument out of what the entrepreneurial spirit can do, that land now sits in the shadow of the Empire State building, another monument of what the Americans can do. The Empire State building, built in less than one year. That land now sits in the shadow of the Empire State building. What a surprise. The government bought that land and the government partnered with the uber wealthy, the titans of the time, decided they were going to build a library there and an ice skating rink. The New York public library which is now under renovation still stands in that spot where the Crystal Palace was. However, they are spending an awful lot of money on something that the American entrepreneur is quickly making obsolete. Isn't it just like government to continue to live in the past.