Aerial photo of the lower Manhattan skyline, including the Twin Towers.

Aerial photograph of lower Manhattan, undated. Collection 9/11 Memorial Museum, Gift of Keystone Aerial Surveys, Inc.

The History of the World Trade Center

What was the World Trade Center and why was it important?

The original World Trade Center was a 16-acre complex in New York City, comprising seven buildings that housed more than 430 businesses from around the world. The Twin Towers, two 110-story skyscrapers at the World Trade Center, dominated the Manhattan skyline for three decades before their destruction in 2001. Although initially criticized for their audacious height and severe architectural style, the buildings took on iconic status in the public imagination, becoming emblematic of New York City and America as a whole.

Their fame and symbolism made the Twin Towers the targets of two terrorist attacks. The first took place on February 26, 1993, when a van loaded with approximately 1,200 pounds of explosives was detonated in the public parking garage beneath the World Trade Center. The second took place on September 11, 2001, when members of the terrorist group al-Qaeda flew two hijacked planes into the buildings, leading to their collapse.

Primary Sources

These primary sources include speeches, executive orders, legislative acts and debates, and government reports. 

History of the Port Authority of NY & NJ

Port Authority’s history of the WTC

Program from the World Trade Center dedication ceremony on April 4, 1973

List of World Trade Center tenants

Suggested Reading List

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Mordicai Gerstein. Square Fish, 2007.

(Kindergarten–Grade 3)

Three World Trade Center Was Our Home

Isabelle Tadmoury Florjin (author), Annerose Wahl (illustrator). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

(Grades 1–2)

City in the Sky: The Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center

James Glanz and Eric Lipton. Times Books, 2004

Twin Towers: The Life of New York City’s World Trade

Gillespie, Angus. Rutgers University, 1999

Symbolism and the city: From towers of power to ‘Ground Zero’ 

Robert Patrick and Amy MacDonald. Prairie Perspectives: Geographical Essays (Vol: 15), 2012.

Related Resources

These related resources include lesson planspast public programs, and feature galleries on Inside the Collection.