Charles Ebbets: The Dangling Photographer

October 13, 2023 | Jamie Hayes

Charles Ebbets: The Dangling Photographer

Everyone knows the famous photograph of construction workers eating lunch on a girder hundreds of feet above the Manhattan skyline—but what about the photographer who took the picture?

A Daredevil At Heart

Charles Ebbets bought his first camera at age 8, charging it to his family account at the drugstore. Though photography would become his life’s greatest work, Ebbets grew up to be an adventurer who wore many hats. 

He filmed early motion pictures and even acted in some of them. He was a pilot, a daredevil, a wingwalker, a racecar driver, and a hunter—but throughout all of his escapades, he took photographs.

Charles Ebbets atop the RCA BuildingEbbets Photo Graphics


Sign up to our newsletter.

History’s most fascinating stories and darkest secrets, delivered to your inbox daily. Making distraction rewarding since 2017.

Thank you!
Error, please try again.

Putting Your Life On The Line

It took this strange combination of stuntman and photographer to capture the iconic image of workers eating lunch on a girder, 850 feet up the RCA Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. 

But anyone who thought the photographer took the photo from safety would be mistaken. Ebbets, along with junior photographers Thomas Kelley (pictured here) and William Leftwich, had to brave the heights themselves—all while wrangling their 1930s-era cameras. I guess the wingwalking came in handy!

The Sunshine State

Soon after taking the photo, Ebbets moved back to Florida, where he’d started his career. He devoted himself to growing tourism in the state, taking extensive photographs of Florida’s natural beauty.

He also became extremely close with the local Seminole, counting several of their leaders as his personal friends. This gave him unprecedented access to Seminole culture, which he used to document their lives.

In 1938, the Seminole allowed him to become the first white man ever to see the sacred Green Corn Dance, even letting him document the event with his camera.

While he created one of New York City’s most iconic photographs, Ebbets was a Florida man true and true. He lived in the Sunshine State, documenting life there, until his death of cancer in 1978.

More from Factinate

Featured Article

My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.

Featured Article

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.

More from Factinate

Featured Article

I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.

Featured Article

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.

Dear reader,

Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to Thanks for your time!

Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at Thanks for your help!

Warmest regards,

The Factinate team

Want to learn something new every day?

Join thousands of others and start your morning with our Fact Of The Day newsletter.

Thank you!

Error, please try again.