Highway under the Hudson

A History of the Holland Tunnel

320 pages

56 illustrations

December, 2011

ISBN: 9780814742990



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Robert W. Jackson is an urban planner and historian, and previously served as a historian for the Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, where he documented historic bridges and highways in Texas, Iowa and Pennsylvania. He holds a PhD in American Civilization from University of Texas, and is the author of Rails across the Mississippi: A History of the St. Louis Bridge. He currently lives in Austin, Texas.

All books by Robert W. Jackson

Choice's Outstanding Academic Title list for 2013 

 "There is no comparable book on this tunnel. Highly recommended."Choice Reviews
Every year, more than thirty-three million vehicles traverse the Holland Tunnel, making their way to and from Jersey City and Lower Manhattan. From tourists to commuters, many cross the tunnel's 1.6-mile corridor on a daily basis, and yet few know much about this amazing feat of early 20th-century engineering. How was it built, by whom, and at what cost? These and many other questions are answered in Highway Under the Hudson: A History of the Holland Tunnel, Robert W. Jackson's fascinating story about this seminal structure in the history of urban transportation.

Jackson explains the economic forces which led to the need for the tunnel, and details the extraordinary political and social politicking that took place on both sides of the Hudson River to finally enable its construction. He also introduces us to important figures in the tunnel's history, such as New Jersey Governor Walter E. Edge, who, more than anyone else, made the dream of a tunnel a reality and George Washington Goethals (builder of the Panama Canal and namesake of the Goethals Bridge), the first chief engineer of the project.

Fully illustrated with more than 50 beautiful archival photographs and drawings, Jackson's story of the Holland Tunnel is one of great human drama, with heroes and villains, that illustrates how great things are accomplished, and at what price.

Highway Under the Hudson featured in the New York Times

Listen to Robert Jackson talk about the book on WAMC Radio


  • "His vivid account features a colorful cast of characters...An important work chronicling a largely unsung American engineering feat...it remains a compelling story that serves as a dramatic reminder that government can accomplish great things that the private sector cannot."

    Library Journal

  • "Robert Jackson spent three-and-a-half years compiling a complete history on [the Holland Tunnel]...[he] delves into not only the history of this famous tunnel but the drama behind its construction, the people involved and the unique engineering that took place."

    —Linnea Covington, Our Town

  • "There is no comparable book on this tunnel. Highly recommended."

    —D. Brand, CHOICE

  • "Jackson's history of the tunnel is a meticulous study of politics and technology, drawn from manuscript collections and extensive public documents."

    Journal of American History

  • "...Jackson's work is an exemplary tale of interstate political alliances, environmental technology, and sandhog worker culture."

    —Michael J. Conrad, New York History

  • "Historian Jackson provides an excellent history of the Holland Tunnel's politics and planning, 1906-20; its construction, 1920-27; and its operations in the 1930s-40s. He describes in detail the self-serving politics and corruption, particularly of New Jersey's tunnel commissioners in the 1910s-20s... The volume includes photographs of politicians, engineers, and construction, but no tables. The references, bibliography, and index are excellent. There is no comparable book on this tunnel. Summing Up: Highly recommended."

    Choice Reviews

  • "When the Holland Tunnel opened in 1927, it was the world’s longest and largest vehicular tunnel and was distinguished by an innovative ventilation system. Until then, vehicles were ferried across the Hudson and were subject to the vicissitudes of ice and fog. In Highway under the Hudson: A History of the Holland Tunnel, Robert W. Jackson explores the tortured bistate bureaucratic and political prelude to the construction of the 1.6-mile underwater corridor, which, by the way, was named not for the region’s Dutch roots, but for the project’s first chief engineer, Clifford Holland of Brooklyn, who died at 41 of heart failure in a sanitarium while undergoing a tonsillectomy."

    The New York Times

  • "Jackson has excavated a vast amount of information, bringing this authoritative history of a ground-breaking tunnel to life."

    Publishers Weekly

  • Highway under the Hudson tells a truly engaging story about a great engineering project....Robert Jackson has skillfully captured the political intrigue, technological challenge, and human drama associated with turning a dream into a reality.”

    —Henry Petroski, A.S.Vesic Civil Engineering Prof.,History Prof., Duke University; author of "The Essential Engineer"

  • “Robert Jackson has given us a terrific story—replete with important engineering challenges and men who braved the odds—and sometimes died—in building the Holland Tunnel.”

    —Jameson W. Doig, Research Professor in Government, Dartmouth College; author of "Empire on the Hudson"

  • “Written in a clear, engaging style, Highway under the Hudson exposes the complex social, political, and technological forces that converged in the construction of the Holland Tunnel.  Equally adept at unraveling political machinations, visualizing and describing engineering techniques, portraying the dangerous working conditions of the "sandhogs" who dug the tunnel, and evoking the personalities of those who planned, financed, and engineered the project, Robert W. Jackson contributes an essential chapter in the history of New York City's infrastructure.”

    —Jeffrey L. Meikle, Professor of American Studies, University of Texas at Austin

  • “Robert Jackson has written a scholarly work. It explores human motivation, design ingenuity, dedication, sacrifice, and, ultimately, the imperfection of our human vision.”

    —Dario A. Gasparini, Professor of Civil Engineering, Case Western Reserve University