“Men would gather on 23rd Street in hopes of catching a glimpse of an ankle.”
In the late 19th century, the United States was experiencing an economic boom, which meant buildings in major cities grew faster and taller. The “skyscraper” was made possible by steel frameworks and the invention of the elevator.
The Fuller company, famed for its skyscraper designs, purchased a triangular plot in Manhattan on 23rd Street. The space was known as the Flatiron for its resemblance to a household clothes iron. Architect Daniel Burnham designed a building in the Beaux-Arts style, incorporating classical Roman features into a modern building with sculpted decoration.
During its construction, many thought the wind would blow the building down, due to its odd height and shape. Thus, it was nicknamed “Burnham’s Folly.”
The wind rumors added to the skyscraper’s notoriety. Unpredictable gusts around the building’s unique shape could knock people over and lift the skirts of ladies passing by. Men would gather on 23rd Street in hopes of catching a glimpse of an ankle. Supposedly, policemen shooing gawkers away was the origin of the popular phrase “23 Skiddoo.”
Upon completion in June 1902, the 20-story Flatiron Building was the tallest building in New York. It was originally intended to be called the Fuller Building, but the Flatiron name stuck and was eventually adopted officially. The neighborhood around it is called the Flatiron District to this day.