On Dec. 22, 1937, Omero C. Catan, a Manhattan salesman sat in his car for 30 hours to be the first to drive through the newly-constructed Lincoln Tunnel. The center tube of the tunnel opened to traffic to connect midtown with Weehawken, New Jersey.
Up until the late 1900s, there was no connection by bridge or tunnel from New York to New Jersey. Since workers traveling to the city from New Jersey and back had to cross the Hudson to get to Manhattan, the tunnel was a relief and economic advantage.
The project, funded by the Public Works Administration also benefited the economy by putting thousands to work during the Great Depression by the Ports Authority of both states.
Building the Tunnel
Designed by Ole Singstad and the first tunnel completed after the Holland tunnel in 1927, building it was no small feat.
Construction began in March of 1934 with crews working from the New York side and New Jersey side of the Hudson River. The workers, called “sandhogs”, had to pass through airlocks easing them in and out of dangerous and claustrophobic high-pressure areas. The work zone was up to 97 feet below the surface of the river.
Enduring the threat of floods and high pressure, the determined workers braced the excavation with hundreds of huge iron rings and concrete amid the roar of giant drills, exploding dynamite, and the rattle of tram cars above. Workers from both sides didn’t meet each other beneath the Hudson until August of 1935.
As traffic increased the ports authorities ordered the building of the second tube, already in the plans in 1938. Work was halted until 1941 because of war-material shortages of metal. Finally, the second tube opened on February 1, 1945. Omero Catan’s brother Michael was the first to lead the way through the second tube.
The Port Authority proposed a third tube that the City of New York initially opposed. They wanted to convince the Port Authority to help fund the road improvements that would be needed to help with the increase in traffic. After a compromise, the third tunnel opened in May of 1957. By the beginning of the 21st century, close to 21 million vehicles passed through the tunnel named after the twelfth U.S. president every year, making it the world’s busiest vehicular tunnel.