On November 13, 1927, the Holland Tunnel, which goes under the Hudson River and connects Manhattan with Jersey City, New Jersey, was opened to the public. As the first vehicular crossing across the Hudson River, it is considered an outstanding engineering achievement.
Most American public works projects are named after a historical figure, government official, or local hero, but because the Holland Tunnel was such an amazing engineering feat, the tunnel was named for its first chief engineer, Clifford Holland. He unfortunately died before the tunnel’s completion. For centuries, the only way to cross the lower Hudson River was by ferry. In the first decade of the 20th century, several tunnels were constructed under the Hudson River for trains to connect major stations in Manhattan in New Jersey. Because of the completion of these tunnels and the rise in automobile usage, interest began to peak in making a tunnel for vehicular passage across the Hudson. Originally, a bridge was going to be built over the river, but this idea was abandoned in favor of a tunnel for cost reasons.
The biggest challenge in building a tunnel for automobiles under the river was how to properly ventilate it. Underwater tunnels were already a well-developed part of civil engineering, but since this was a tunnel for automobiles, carbon monoxide emissions produced by cars could be deadly to drivers if there was not proper ventilation in the tunnel. One of the tunnel’s chief engineers, Ole Singstad proposed building a circular tunnel with automatic ventilation buildings on both sides. The completed tunnel contained four ventilation buildings with 84 fans providing a change of air every 90 seconds. This revolutionary engineering feat made the Holland Tunnel the first underwater tunnel for automobiles with a ventilation system. Some members of the press proclaimed that the quality of air in the tunnel was better than air on some New York City streets. Engineering techniques used in the building of the Holland Tunnel are still the basis for building underwater tunnels all over the world today.
In 1984, the Holland Tunnel was made a National Historic Civil and Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil and Mechanical Engineers. And in 1993, the U.S. Department of the Interior made the tunnel a National Historic Landmark.