Grand Central's Engineer: William J. Wilgus and the Planning of Modern Manhattan

Overview

Few people have had as profound an effect on the history of New York City as William J. Wilgus. As chief engineer of the New York Central Railroad, Wilgus conceived Grand Central Terminal, the magnificent monument to America’s Railway Age. Kurt C. Schlichting examines the remarkable career of this innovator, revealing how his tireless work moving people and goods over and under Manhattan Island’s surrounding waterways forever changed New York’s bustling transportation system.

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Grand Central's Engineer: William J. Wilgus and the Planning of Modern Manhattan

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Overview

Few people have had as profound an effect on the history of New York City as William J. Wilgus. As chief engineer of the New York Central Railroad, Wilgus conceived Grand Central Terminal, the magnificent monument to America’s Railway Age. Kurt C. Schlichting examines the remarkable career of this innovator, revealing how his tireless work moving people and goods over and under Manhattan Island’s surrounding waterways forever changed New York’s bustling transportation system.

After his herculean efforts on behalf of Grand Central, the most complicated construction project in New York City’s history, Wilgus turned to solving the city’s transportation quandary: Manhattan—the financial, commercial, and cultural hub of the United States in the twentieth century—was separated from the mainland by major rivers to the west and east, a deep-water estuary to the south, and the Harlem River to the north. Wilgus believed that railroads and mass transportation provided the answer to New York City’s complicated geography.

Schlichting’s deep respect for Wilgus and his engineering achievements becomes evident in the pages of this fascinating work. Wilgus was a true pioneer, and Schlichting ensures that his brilliant contributions to New York City’s transportation system will not be forgotten.

"The single best analysis we have of freight transportation in an early twentieth-century U.S. city."— Journal of American History

"Reconsidering accomplishments—and those who accomplished them—that predate our collective living memories is an important and rewarding exercise, especially when done as well as Grand Central’s Engineer, which celebrates William J. Wilgus both for his pioneering and visionary work on the terminal and for his subsequent work in transportation planning."— Civil Engineering

"Schlichting is very good at providing the economic and political context for Wilgus's work... A very well-researched, well-organized, well-written account. Highly recommended."— Choice

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Schlichting is very good at providing the economic and political context for Wilgus's work... A very well-researched, well-organized, well-written account. Highly recommended.

H-Net Review H-Urban

His study peels away our contemporary expectations and experiences and reveals the layers of history and acts of men that served as the foundation for this great structure.

History Wire - Where the Past Comes Alive - Steve Goddard
Schlichting's new book is a stellar example of the importance of university presses. It profiles the chief engineer of the New York Central Railroad, the man 'who first presented his revolutionary plans for a completely new Grand Central'... Wilgus would continue to languish in obscurity had not Johns Hopkins University Press chosen to showcase him by printing his biography.
Journal of American History - Clifton Hood
The single best analysis we have of freight transportation in an early twentieth-century U.S. city.
Civil Engineering - Ray Bert
Reconsidering accomplishments—and those who accomplished them—that predate our collective living memories is an important and rewarding exercise, especially when done as well as Grand Central’s Engineer, which celebrates William J. Wilgus both for his pioneering and visionary work on the terminal and for his subsequent work in transportation planning.
Journal of Urban History - Joshua A. Britton
Schlichting does more than revive the reputation and importance of William Wilgus; he also provides a fascinating, well-researched, and important case study for how expertise and rational, comprehensive planning was necessary to solve the problems of the modern City.
Choice
Schlichting is very good at providing the economic and political context for Wilgus's work... A very well-researched, well-organized, well-written account. Highly recommended.
History Wire - Where the Past Comes Alive
Schlichting's new book is a stellar example of the importance of university presses. It profiles the chief engineer of the New York Central Railroad, the man 'who first presented his revolutionary plans for a completely new Grand Central'... Wilgus would continue to languish in obscurity had not Johns Hopkins University Press chosen to showcase him by printing his biography.

— Steve Goddard

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Kurt C. Schlichting is a professor of sociology and the E. Gerald Corrigan '63 Chair in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Fairfield University. His book Grand Central Terminal: Railroads, Engineering, and Architecture in New York City, also published by Johns Hopkins, won the Professional/Scholarly Publishing Award in Architecture from the Association of American Publishers.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Preface xi

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 New York City's Geography and Transportation Challenges 11

Chapter 2 The Brilliance of Grand Central 42

Chapter 3 New York's Freight Problem 74

Chapter 4 Expanding the Subway in Manhattan 106

Chapter 5 World War and Ideas for a New York-New Jersey "Port Authority" 141

Chapter 6 Making Room for the Automobile: The Holland Tunnel 186

Chapter 7 Joining Staten Island to New York City: The Narrows Tunnel 219

Conclusion 245

Notes 257

Index 267

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