The World’s Littlest Skyscraper

The Newby–McMahon Building is a four-story brick building located near the railroad depot in downtown Wichita Falls, TX built in 1906 by Augustus Newby.  The oil-rig construction firm of J.D. McMahon, an oilman and structural engineer from Philadelphia, was one of seven tenants whose offices were based in the original Newby Building.

According to local legend, when McMahon announced in 1919 that he would build a high-rise annex to the Newby Building as a solution to the newly wealthy city’s urgent need for office space, investors were eager to invest in the project. McMahon collected US $200,000 (equivalent to $2.9M in 2020) in investment capital from a group of naïve investors, promising to construct a high-rise office building across the street from the St. James Hotel.

The key to McMahon’s swindle, and his successful defense in the ensuing lawsuit was that legal documents listed the height as 480″ (inches) as opposed to 480′ (feet). Investors didn’t seem to notice, and McMahon never verbally stated that the actual height of the building would be 480 feet.  The proposed skyscraper depicted in the blueprints that he distributed (and which were approved by the investors) was clearly labeled as consisting of four floors and 480 inches.

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