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November 13, 1927 – The Holland Tunnel Opens

Posted November 13, 2009 4:22 PM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, the first of 51,694 vehicles drove through the Holland Tunnel, a dual-tube structure that passes beneath the Hudson River to connect the island of Manhattan with New Jersey.

Named after Clifford Milburn Holland, the project's first Chief Engineer, the Holland Tunnel consists of a north tube that measures 8,558 ft. and a south tube that is 180 ft. shorter. Some 500 ft. longer than New York's Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel also features 700,000 more ceiling tiles for a total of 4 million.

Construction Begins

Construction on the Holland Tunnel began in 1920, seven years after a joint New York-New Jersey transportation commission recommended the building of a tunnel instead of a bridge. After rejecting several proposals for a bi-level structure, the coalition decided upon a twin tube design by Clifford Holland, a Harvard-educated engineer who, in the words of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, "sees in a tunnel all the allurement which a mole finds in a nicely constructed burrow". Holland's two-duct design called for one duct to draw-in clean air and the other to exhaust dirty air. Air movement would be controlled by 42 blowing fans and 42 exhaust fans in four ventilation buildings.

Cast Iron and Concrete

On a good day, teams of construction workers called "sandhogs" advanced 40 ft. Their progress followed the movement of two massive, hydraulically-powered, cast iron shields. Each shield weighed 400 tons and had a forward thrust of 6,000 tons. As the sandhogs advanced behind their 16-ft. long shields, they shoveled away mud and blasted through rock. The construction crews also bolted together iron rings – some 115,000 tons in all – and poured 130,000 cubic yards of concrete to form the lining of the Holland Tunnel.

The Sandhogs Succeed

Early in 1927, two brothers met beneath the Hudson River when the teams of sandhogs that they commanded finally "holed through". Later that year, when the Holland Tunnel was finally complete, President Calvin Coolidge traveled to Manhattan to press a golden lever that parted American flags on both sides of the tunnel – allowing vehicles to pass at one minute past midnight. Absent from the festivities were Clifford Milburn Holland, who had died during surgery in 1924, and 14 sandhogs who had given their lives to build this engineering marvel.

Resources:

http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/27/nyregion/a-tunnel-holland-named-us-historic-landmark.html

http://www.nycroads.com/crossings/holland/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifford_Milburn_Holland

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holland_Tunnel

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#1

Re: November 13, 1927 – The Holland Tunnel Opens

11/15/2009 11:06 AM

I believe you intended to put the word died in the last sentence.

Thanks again for the article.

Memories of late night returns home to the City through that tunnel came to me.

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#2
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Re: November 13, 1927 – The Holland Tunnel Opens

11/16/2009 9:02 AM

You're welcome, Transcendian. Thanks for reading, and thanks for catching my omission in that last sentence. I've since corrected it.

Best,

Moose

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Re: November 13, 1927 – The Holland Tunnel Opens

11/16/2009 11:39 AM

They died of euphamism
Del

Out of interest (and not trying to be political), I find it slightly odd that in the UK and presumably the US we make a huge thing of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, Iraq etc, and yet more construction workers get killed every day with barely a mention. And indeed many are still dying as a result of asbestosis.
(Pls delete/edit this if considered inappropriate)
Del

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Re: November 13, 1927 – The Holland Tunnel Opens

11/16/2009 7:00 PM

Do they have anything like Labor Day in the UK?

Certainly Union Labor in my field is typically safer labor.

I've been interested in whatever was unique about the building of the NYC Chrysler Building since as far as I know, it is a historic building in that no-one was killed putting it up.

Don't know what the statistics are now, but pretty sure that it was normally expected that when building skyscrapers they figured on one death per floor.

I guess as far as the different dramas associated with war is that we want to keep working, whereas war is something we want to stop.

War interferes with being worked to death.

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Re: November 13, 1927 – The Holland Tunnel Opens

12/17/2012 10:57 PM

Not inappropriate at all...I am amazed I survived 40 years of multi-story on-site construction. The first 20 years of setting trusses and the second 20 years of being a supervisor up to 15 stories and not once getting thrown off the building!

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