The Holland Tunnel: A Landmark Feat of Innovation

On November 13, 1927, the Holland Tunnel, the longest underwater tunnel of its kind in the world at the time, opened to public traffic. The tunnel connects Jersey City and Manhattan and supports the crossing of over 30 million vehicles every year.

The Holland Tunnel was commissioned in 1920 by the New Jersey Interstate Bridge and Tunnel Commission and the New York State Bridge and Tunnel Commission. They hired engineer Clifford M. Holland as chief engineer on the project. He had previously worked as a tunnel engineer on the construction of the first New York subway and therefore was an excellent candidate for the job. Holland dedicated himself to the problems faced by building an underwater tunnel that was so long. In fact, he was so dedicated, the media referred to him as “the Head Mole.” The team began by pushing cylindrical steel pieces into the river’s bottom starting at each shore and meeting in the middle. Shortly after this achievement in 1924, Holland passed away.

Strangely enough, the second engineer to be assigned to the project, Milton Freeman, passed after only five months of working on the project. It was the third engineer, Ole Singstad, who solved the most significant problem of this long tunnel: ventilation. He installed an automatic ventilation system by building two ventilation towers on each side of the river. They housed 84 fans that could refresh the air every 90 seconds, keeping the travelers safe from any fumes inside. This innovation was the first of its kind in the world and an inspiration for many underwater vehicular tunnels afterward.

The design of this indispensable method of transportation was such an important step in the development of tunnel design that in the 1980s, the bridge was named a National Historic Civil and Engineering Landmark.

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