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Not Quite Scraping the Sky

by Laura Overdeck

When you’re building any kind of house or building, you have to watch the numbers closely. If you don’t, you could get a big bad surprise, like the people in Wichita Falls, Texas. Back in 1919, a guy named J.D. McMahon told people he was building a “skyscraper” — a really tall building — with a height of 480. Lots of excited people paid money to own a piece of it. But he worded the papers very carefully: he never said 480 feet. So he built a skyscraper only 480 inches tall, which comes to only 40 feet! That cost him a lot less money to build, and he kept all the leftover money. The buyers were super angry, because they thought they were buying a 48-story building, not a dinky 4-story one! The Newby-McMahon Building still stands today as the world’s shortest, silliest skyscraper.

Wee ones: Most skyscrapers look like a rectangle from the side. How many sides does a rectangle have?

Little kids: Which is taller, a 40-foot tall building or a 400-foot tall building?  Bonus: If they started building this little building in February 1919 and took 3 months, in what month did they finish?

Big kids: If the building should have cost $2,000, but people gave McMahon 12 times as much money to build it, how much money did they give him?  Bonus: If your house is 24 feet tall and shrank to 1/12 that height, how tall would it be — and how would it look next to you?













Wee ones: 4 sides.

Little kids: The 400-foot building is taller.  Bonus: May of 1919.

Big kids: $24,000.  Bonus: 2 feet, which is probably shorter than you!

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