When Radio City Music Hall was built in the 1930’s, it was the largest and most advanced movie theaters of its day. To put its size into perspective, in 2004 it was actually used for 6 WNBA games while Madison Square Garden was preparing to host the Republican National Convention. Its still a wonderful theater to visit, especially to catch the famous Rockette’s Christmas show which has been a tradition since 1933. While the building itself is famous, not many know that the technology of its stage actually helped the United States win World War II.
The great stage of Radio City Music Hall was an engineering marvel of its day. It consisted of three 70-foot-wide sections that were able to descend with hydraulics 27 feet below stage level or rise 13 feet above it. Even the orchestra pit using similar hydraulics and is able to rise and descend as needed. Each of the three stages has a turntable built into its elevator so it can rotate as well. Rockefeller Center makes extensive use of this technology and the stage moves an average of 200 feet during the course of a performance.
The engineering involved in the stage was so advanced when it was first constructed that it was studied by the Navy and integrated into aircraft carriers. Presumably, the technology was used to raise and lower aircraft between the hanger and the flight deck. During World War II, government agents were stationed at the music hall to ensure that enemy spies couldnt gain access to and learn how it worked. In 2001, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers declared the stage elevators a historic engineering landmark. It’s a little known but very cool part of American history and an example of what American inventors and industry were able to accomplish in the 20th century, and how that innovation was used when needed to win the Second World War.