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The construction of the Woolworth Building took 29 months, from the beginning of the foundation excavations in November 1910, through the topping out of the steel frame on July 1, 1912, to the completion of the richly ornamented terra cotta façade and interior public spaces in April 1913. The complicated foundation work consumed a year and was executed under a separate contract with The Foundation Company that Woolworth himself had negotiated and supervised, well before he signed on with the project's general contractor Thompson-Starrett on April 20, 1911.

All of New York's major building companies vied for Woolworth's business. Louis Horowitz (in the photograph above), the president of Thompson-Starrett, later recounted that "all my nightmares had to do with the black despair of failing to get that mighty contract."

By 1900, the profession and business model of the general contractor had become standard practice, especially for large-scale projects. These companies bid a fixed price to deliver a finished building to the client on an established date. They were responsible for purchasing the materials and labor, and they organized the worksite. They usually owned their own heavy construction equipment and hired at least half of the building trades directly and adding others through sub-contractors. The only way for the builder to make a profit was to stay "on time and on budget" As Horowitz wrote in a contemporary article, they key was managing "a comprehensive time schedule" that imposed "a rational and systematic order from start to finish over all lines of work."

Thompson-Starrett contracted to be paid $300,0000 for their work, and they delivered the building on time (under a revised schedule) for their guaranteed construction cost of $4,308,500.