Home / History / The World’s Littlest Skyscraper: How to Scam the Rich, in Style
model of skyscraper

The World’s Littlest Skyscraper: How to Scam the Rich, in Style

A scale model of three skyscrapers
Photo by Heitor Carvalho Jorge, CC BY-SA 3.0

“What is this, a skyscraper for ants?!”

A huge petroleum reservoir was discovered just over 100 years ago in Wichita County, Texas. Much like the Klondike Gold Rush way up north, people flooded the area, increasing the surrounding population by 20,000 seemingly overnight by 1918.

Oil men, riggers, and all sorts of would-be fortune finders headed straight to the reservoir to set up camp.

Nearby was the formerly quiet town of Wichita Falls, the seat of the spacious county. It was here the people decided would be the perfect place to set up the logistical hub to operate the oil boom.

Space was short. Would-be oilmen filled the streets with tables, tents, and shanties to make any deal they could under the sun. And profiteering businessmen were lurking on the edges eager to find any one-up they could.

Enter J.D. McMahon, a petroleum land owner and engineer.

Building an addition

Near the main train depot of Wichita Falls was a building officially called the Newby–McMahon Building. One of its tenants, J.D. McMahon, saw the crazy lack of office space and proposed an addition on the side of the building — an entire skyscraper!

He made his blueprints and courted several eager businessmen who had alighted upon the town to invest around $200,000 or $3.1 million in today’s equivalent to build it.

The contract and blueprint laid out plans for a building with the dimensions of ~480″ tall, ~260″ deep, and ~120″ wide.

Given the rush to make money and the eagerness of everyone involved, the blueprints were quickly signed off on and the building was built in record time.

Why record time?

As I’m sure many of you just noticed, the plans used inches (“) instead of feet (‘)! The newly completed building was only 40 feet tall — as the investors soon found out.

What happened to the World’s Littlest Skyscraper?

Of course, the investors sued J.D. McMahon for defrauding them, but according to local hearsay, they mostly lost. Why? Because J.D. never used the words feet in any of his communications or contracts.

By the time they discovered all this, it didn’t much matter, as J.D. had already fled town with most of the investors’ money.

Hilariously, the building was still used.

It didn’t even have stairs built into the four-story building — they used ladders for a period of time until stairs were installed. Now they occupy a good 25% of the entire floor space.

Originally considered a huge embarrassment to the town, locals eventually grew a certain fondness for it, especially after its nickname of The World’s Littlest Skyscraper was adopted.

Since then, the building has been occupied by various shops and businesses over the years, eventually being transferred to the Wichita County Heritage Society, where they have been attempting to keep it from disrepair.

So, what does the World’s Littlest Skyscraper look like today?

Well, not so great. And I honestly laughed when I saw how tiny it is:

The front of the World’s Littlest Skyscraper in Wichita, Texas
Photo on Google Maps, Fair Use
Note the sign required to point out where the skyscraper is — perhaps the only one in existence in the world?

The side of The World’s Littlest Skyscraper in Wichita, Texas
Photo on Google Maps, Fair Use

And that is how you scam a bunch of overly-eager oilmen into investing in a 40′ tall skyscraper.

J.J. Pryor

Head over here for more of my written shenanigans.

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