New York Harbor - Pre World War II

The geographical conditions which themselves made New York the logical gateway of this country by reason of its great expanse of waterfront, its favorable tide conditions, its deep channels and its ready access to the ocean, caused a. growth that has no parallel in history.

Statue of Liberty: “Liberty Enlightening the World,”

Statue of Liberty: “Liberty Enlightening the World,” The World-Famed Bartholdi Statue In The Upper Bay of New York on Bedloes Island. Presented to The United States by The Republic of France. GGA Image ID # 142846e8aa

Proposed Reorganization of the Port of New York (1921)

AFTER several years’ study of the future need. Of the Port of New York, the New York, New Jersey Port & Harbor Development Commission -created in 1917 by the legislatures of the two States-has transmitted a most comprehensive plan for the future development of the Port to the Governors of New York and of New Jersey.

The magnitude of the transportation operations and the growing burden of congestion and terminal costs presents a situation requiring immediate correction.

Problems not created elsewhere are presented by the physical geography of the Port, the diversity of its interests and activities, and its very bigness. In order that the work may be carried on with continuity of policy and effort the Commission urges the creation of a unified Port District and a continuing port authority with broad powers and jurisdiction over the entire Port District by means of a compact or agreement between the State of New York and New Jersey.

View of Hudson River From West Side of Manhattan.

View of Hudson River From West Side of Manhattan Showing Crowded Condition of Shipping, Which Will Be Greatly Diminished When the Vehicular Tunnel Is Completed. GGA Image ID # 14285279b4

The Commission believes that wherever feasible throughout the Port District, which is held to extend from Jamaica Bay to Newark and from Perth Amboy to Irvington on the Hudson, rail lines should be brought to the tidal waters so that rail and water service can be efficiently and economically coordinated.

This is to be accomplished by a system of inner and outer beltline railroads on both the New Jersey and New York sides of the harbor, connecting all trunk lines and having numerous spurs to the various waterfronts.

Such lines, developed in such sequence as further study would determine, would provide for commercial and industrial development under the most favorable circumstances, and for the expansion of domestic and foreign trade throughout the Port.

Practically every part of the Port except Manhattan will have the advantage of standard freight rail service without breaking of bulk. In Manhattan the Commission finds that a standard railroad is not feasible.

It therefore proposes an underground "automatic-electric system," an entirely new form of conveyor railroad which, serving the nine New Jersey trunk lines as well as the New York roads, will carry freight on short trains of special cars moving without locomotives or train operators, and running between terminals in Manhattan and joint yards away from the congestion.

Plans 34 to 38 North River, Just Above Canal Street, Manhattan

Plans 34 to 38 North River, Just Above Canal Street, Manhattan, Soon to Be Replaced With Longer and Wider Two-Story Piers With Wider Slips Between Them. GGA Image ID # 142885e43c

Two stages of the automatic-electric development are proposed. The first, linking the New York Central and New Jersey railroads through a loop from a joint yard in New Jersey and a spur to the New York Central's 60th St. yard, will provide equal service from each of the ten railroads at twelve union terminals in lower Manhattan.

The second, bringing the New Haven and Long Island Railroads into the system through a second joint yard near Wards and Randalls Islands, which the New York Central will also reach by additional tracks along the Harlem River, and providing additional lines and stations in upper Manhattan, will give all parts of Manhattan universal rail service.

The automatic-electric system, with its terminals all set well back from the waterfront, will release the present railroad pier stations for steamship service and the Marginal Way for supporting warehouses, will eliminate the present congestion of trucks on West Street and the Marginal Way, and will place well distributed union terminals much nearer the shippers and consignees, thereby greatly reducing the length of haul and street congestion in Manhattan for both inbound and outbound freight.

Fine View of the Battery Taken From About 900 Feet Altitude. Battery Park in the Foreground.

Fine View of the Battery Taken From About 900 Feet Altitude. Battery Park in the Foreground. GGA Image ID # 1428f8dcf8

The foregoing new facilities are expected to reduce materially the car-float and railroad lighterage movement in the harbor, but much will still remain. . This the Commission would consolidate into joint operation from a few new railroad terminals at convenient points.

This improved railroad-terminal system the commission regards as the backbone of a rational port development, and it constitutes the physical plan which, together with a compact between the two States to make the plan effective, the Commission urges for formal adoption.

Cunard Line Piers, 52 and 53 North River, Part of the “Chelsea District," is the Most Modern and Finest of New York's Piers.

Cunard Line Piers, 52 and 53 North River, Part of the “Chelsea District," is the Most Modern and Finest of New York's Piers. GGA Image ID # 1429089999

In furtherance of that rational development the Commission recommends, among other things:

  • Reorganization with wider piers and slips and more warehouse facilities of the Manhattan and other congested waterfronts.
  • Dredging of channels to every part of the Port's waterfront in keeping with the volume and character of the waterborne commerce seeking to use them, and removal or modification of bridges obstructing the channels.
  • Provision of suitable highway access to every part of the Port's waterfront.
  • Construction of additional terminals for the New York Barge Canal.
  • Wide installation of judiciously selected freight-handling machinery.
  • Creation of bunker facilities and fuel reserves for steamships.
  • Erection of grain elevators for joint use of New Jersey railroads and New York barge canal at a southern terminus of the outer belt line and at Piermont, and early completion of the barge canal elevator authorized at Gowanus Bay.
  • Zoning of steamship terminals by trade routes as far as practicable.
  • Establishment of free ports in the Port District.
  • Obtaining of immediate partial relief from present oppressive terminal conditions through
    • Consolidation of marine equipment and service, and
    • Inauguration of voluntary store-door delivery by an organized motor truck medium.

The Commission does not look upon an abundance of machinery as a cure-all. Tractors and trailers to move the goods on the pier are held to be as important as cranes to transfer them over the ship's side, but neither are of much value if warehouse space is not at hand to relieve the wharf shed of storage duty.

While it will take several years to build and put into operation the automatic-electric and belt-line systems, the Commission proposes two steps for immediate partial relief. One is the consolidation of railroad marine equipment into a single fleet jointly operated; the other is the inauguration of "voluntary store-door delivery."

New York Central Railroad's Yards and Piers at 66th Street, North River, Manhattan.

New York Central Railroad's Yards and Piers at 66th Street, North River, Manhattan. GGA Image ID # 1429192530

The Port of New York: An Overview of the Operations and Problems (1921)

From a paper read before the New York Chapter, American Society of Civil Engineers, by B. F. Cresson, Jr. Consulting Engineer to the New York, New Jersey Port & Harbor Development Commission.

MANY phases of the New York port problem have been under public discussion almost since the port attained its pre-eminence. The geographical conditions which themselves made New York the logical gateway of this country by reason of its great expanse of waterfront, its favorable tide conditions, its deep channels and its ready access to the ocean, caused a. growth that has no parallel in history. New York has been an easy and cheap port through which to pass commerce and with its natural facilities has grown without the necessity of careful planning until the very volume of its business is choking it.

In more recent years this condition has begun to be appreciated and for the past decade particularly the necessity has been felt for a reorganization along administrative as well as physical lines in order that the increase in commerce flowing through the port may be properly taken care of and with its railroad lines and its steamship service brought into an economic whole.

New York has grown to be the focal point of practically all of the transcontinental railroad lines; those not reaching it directly with their rails are connected by coastwise lines and ports. It is the great port of liner steamship service. New York is pre-eminently the World port; its hinterland is the United States; it is the banking and commercial metropolis of the New World.

Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad’s Ferry Slips, Foot West 23rd Street, New York City.

Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad’s Ferry Slips, Foot West 23rd Street, New York City. GGA Image ID # 1429b86889


New York, taking the whole port district, is unique among ports in that it lies within two states; the State line between New York and New Jersey passes down the Hudson River, New York Bay, the Kills and Raritan Bay, separating the port as far as legislative and political lines are concerned into two separate parts. This separation, however, is solely a political and legislative one as neither portion could operate without the other and the future of the port is dependent on the co-operation of all parts of the port and the organization of the port into one administrative and operative unit.

On the easterly side of the port there is the City of New York comprising the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Richmond, a single political unit with a population of some 5,900,000; other important communities such as Yonkers lie in the easterly part of the Port District.

On the west side of the port are many independent municipalities; such important cities as Newark, Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, Elizabeth, Perth Amboy, Paterson and Passaic, are among the most important, and in the westerly portion of the port there is a population of some 2,100,000, making a total population of the Metropolitan District at the Port of New York of some 8,000,000 persons.

The convenient waterways within the port are among its most important assets-the Hudson and East Rivers, New York Bay, Newark Bay, Jamaica Bay, the Arthur Kills and Kill van Kull, Long Island Sound and the Harlem River, Flushing Bay and Raritan Bay, the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers and many of the waterways and bays give the port a waterfront of some 800 miles-all of which should properly be considered to be in the Port of New York District.

While the most available waterfront at the port has been taken up and developed there are great sections of waterfront still undeveloped and available for use as commercial or industrial frontage. There is no truth in the statement so often made that New York is developed to the fullest possibility of its waterfront.

The Steamship Leviathan, at the U. S. Army Base at Hoboken, NJ.

The Steamship Leviathan, at the U. S. Army Base at Hoboken, NJ. The Leviathan Was Formerly the German Steamer Vaderland. She Is the Largest Ship in the World and Is at Present Laid Up. GGA Image ID # 1429d2e2c1


The government of the waterfront of New York City is under the Dock Commissioner, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment and the Commissioners of the Sinking Fund of the City. New York has had jurisdiction over its waterfront since 1871 and has invested more than $150,000,000 in building docks and piers and harbor facilities-but there is no continuity of administration in the City, each municipal election means a change in City government and federally a change in the policy of developing and administrating the waterfront of the city.

In the New Jersey portion of the port the jurisdiction over the waterfront is divided between perhaps forty municipalities and there is no general control over the waterfront save only that exercised by the New Jersey State Board of Commerce and Navigation, which acts as trustee for the lands of the State lying below high water line and is clothed with power to pass on all plans for public or private development on navigable waters within or bounding the State.

The condition leaves the waterfront of the port without any central authority having jurisdiction and power to lay out and carry out or cause to be carried out any general port plan.

Brooklyn Bridge, Spanning the East River, Taken From Brooklyn Shore.

Brooklyn Bridge, Spanning the East River, Taken From Brooklyn Shore. Municipal Building at City Hall, Manhattan, in Background, September 16, 1920. GGA Image ID # 142a0d41d9


It is fair to say that in view of the volume of business that passes through the port, the various parts of the port and the carriers themselves have gone to unmatched lengths to provide facilities. But there has been no general comprehensive plan of development; New York as well as various New Jersey Communities have prepared plans for their own individual development; commercial organizations, transportation agencies and individuals have prepared plans but they have for the most part been made to meet the particular local needs and have failed for the most part to reach the full consideration of the problem as a whole. They have been local plans to meet local situations within the Port District.

New York has tried to develop and operate as an individual part of the port, and so has New Jersey, and the result has been an effort to create a number of individual ports within the district which must be considered the Port of New York and planned as such with each section put to its best uses as part of a great financial, commercial and industrial whole.

The same individualistic situation exists among the railroads entering the port. In the westerly or New Jersey section of the port are the railroads of the West Shore, Lackawanna, Erie, Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley, Central of New Jersey, Ontario & Western and Susquehanna & Western railroads, each with the exception of the latter two having their own separate break-up yards, their own separate approaches to the waterfront, their own separate waterfront yards and facilities and their own separate marine equipment.

In the New York section of the port are the New York Central, the New Haven, the Long Island and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroads, one with its principal freight terminal in Manhattan, another with' its terminal in the Bronx, another in Long Island and the fourth in Staten Island or the Borough of Richmond, and each of these lines have their own separate and independent terminal facilities.

The terminals of the steamship lines are also largely individual, the principal lines building or leasing for long-term piers for their own individual use without the possibility of their being utilized by other ships or carriers should the conditions arise rendering that advantageous except with the sanction of the steamship line in possession.

The lighterage movements about the harbor waters are carried on as individual operations by the railroads, by private lighterage companies, by some of the steamship lines and by several of the private terminal companies.

Trucking also lacks co-ordination except that recently a large trucking combination has been formed and is seeking to reduce costs and delays by inaugurating some sort of trucking or drayage system.

The warehouses, instead of being properly along the waterfronts or at the railroad terminals, are scattered throughout the district without any particular relation to each other or to the water or land carriers.

There are some terminal companies within the port which have organized and constructed along lines of joint operation performing a uniform service, and these companies have shown in their operation economies that can only be secured through a co-operative service in transportation, warehousing and industrial facilities.

In many other respects the individualistic character of operations at the Port of New York are shown, and it appears clear that so large a machine as the Port of New York cannot properly function except through a co-ordination of its parts. The co-ordination must be administrative, physical and operative and the very fact of the division of the port by political lines, of the cutting up of the waterfront and its supporting backland into private units must be apparent to all students of port problems and city problems, and this individuality must be set aside for the benefits of the communities and of the port as a whole.

View of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Taken From the Air.

View of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Taken From the Air. GGA Image ID # 142a3af9e9


In the main the principal railroads reach the port on the New Jersey side. The railroad rate for most commodities and most destinations covers a delivery within what is known as free lighterage limits which now embraces the active commercial frontage of the port; this rate applies to piers in New York and Brooklyn, as well as to piers in Hoboken and Jersey City, and as a result of this flat rate and the greater initiative and progressiveness of New York most of the steamship piers have been built in the New York part of the Port. New Jersey's frontage is mostly devoted to railroad and industrial occupation, while New York's is largely commercial.

The principal passenger steamship lines dock in Manhattan, the freighters in Brooklyn and Staten Island, the coastwise and New England lines in Manhattan; but perhaps 80 percent of the railroad business for the support of New York's local business and needs and for the foreign and coastwise commerce of the port reaches and leaves the harbor by way of the New Jersey railroads.

The development industrially of Queens and the Bronx has been held back by lack of quick. and convenient access to the principal railroads of the port. New piers are under construction by New York and Staten Island and the steamship uses of the New Jersey frontage, now mostly limited to the piers at Hoboken, are to be added to by installation of great magnitude as represented by the projected Cunard Terminal at Weehawken.

There are no rail connections for freight service between the New Jersey side and the New York side of the Port.

Striking View of Battery Park, West Street

Striking View of Battery Park, West Street, the Beginning of the North River Piers and the Great Office Buildings at the Extreme Southerly End, of Manhattan Island. GGA Image ID # 142a5b933d


New York is reached by the rails of the principal transcontinl1tal railroads and each conducts its own individual operations.

The general method of conducting inbound business is as follows: Break-up yards are located back from the waterfront, where trains are received and cars dispatched to the waterfront to be delivered to pier stations or their contents placed into lighters for delivery to steamships or to piers, or the cars may be transferred either by rail or car float to other rail lines and pass through the port district on their way to other destinations. The operations are many and various and the delays to goods and to cars and the cost of the operations have been said to be very great. But how great these delays and costs are is at the present time unknown.



Pier cranes are not used to any extent in loading or unloading ships at New York, but there is a large equipment of cranes at the port which are used principally in loading and unloading barges at railroad piers.

New York has been accused of being deficient in modern freight-handling machinery. The general method of handling steamship freight at New York is that in use at practically every large port of the world, and the operation which is called "burtoning" is well known and understood by shipping men, stevedores and longshoremen.

The great number of cranes at foreign ports has been referred to as a reason why those ports are cheaper and quicker than New York, but it is not at all certain that the general class of cargo which is handled at New York can as a whole be more economically handled by the wholesale provision of pier cranes. These cranes represent a large investment and their overhead and carrying charges when not in use would run into large amounts.

Every ship is equipped with its own cargo masts and winches and must be so equipped in order to trade at ports where pier machinery does not exist. It may be admitted, however, that with suitable cranes located on suitable piers, properly designed and handling certain general cargoes, economies can be effected in the handling of freight and greater speed attained; one of the most important functions that machinery could perform would be to lessen the idle time of the ship at ports i the ship is earning only when it is traveling and every day in port that can be eliminated, even though the handling of freight may be slightly more expensive, will be of advantage to the ship and to the port.

While cranes may not be the cure-all at New York, they will be a useful part of the future equipment of the port, and there is little doubt that more machinery within the piers is also needed. The various forms of conveyors, the gasoline or electrically driven tractor, the storage battery load-carrying truck, and the wheeled trailers have all been tested out in operation and suggest economies both in time and cost, and they are now largely being installed at piers, not only in New York but throughout the country.

East River Below Brooklyn Bridge.

East River Below Brooklyn Bridge. GGA Image ID # 142a66152a


In New York, as well as at most ports in the United States where the facilities have been provided either by public bodies or by the railroads or by the steamships, the terminals constructed have been deficient in warehousing and storage accommodations. Warehousing and storage is not directly the business of the public authorities, or of the railroad companies, or of the steamship lines.

It is rather considered as a separate business and the result has been and it is particularly so at New York that the waterfront terminals are limited in their operation by lack of facilities for the storage of freight which is subsequently destined for 'either railroad or steamship movement. The result is that piers and railroad terminals are clogged with slow-moving freight and the turnround of the ship has been slowed up and railroad cars have been held to act as storage for freight.

The warehousing problem at New York is a very important one, and it is possible that with adequate warehousing adjacent and convenient to the waterfront the turnaround of the ship can be speeded up and railroad rolling stock can be released for transporting goods.


There is a vast lighterage movement about the port variously estimated up to 60.000.000 tons per year, which is conducted bv the railroad companies, by steamship companies, terminal companies and private lighterage companies. There is the possibility of greater efficiency in the use of lighterage equipment by consolidation of equipment and unification of operation, and this is a subject worthy of the most careful study and analysis in connection with a more unified operation at the port.

Ellis Island, Upper Bay of New York. U. S. Immigration Station in the Port of New York

Ellis Island, Upper Bay of New York. U. S. Immigration Station in the Port of New York. GGA Image ID # 142a840a64


There are very many other subjects which go to make up the New York port problem and which must be studied and understood in order to determine the future policy of the port. The place to begin in the solution of the problem of the greatest port of the world is in the administration of the district. The Joint Commission has already recommended the legislative enactment of a treaty binding together all parts of the Port District to be administered by a Port Authority.

Under this proposed treaty the municipalities are adequately protected in the investments that they had made and in the facilities that they had created. There is to be no pledging of public credit for the development of future facilities, but merely the creation of a central body with sufficient authority and power to encourage private or public initiative to construct modern terminals as part of an organic whole.

Another View of the Battery, the Extreme Southerly Point of Manhattan.

Another View of the Battery, the Extreme Southerly Point of Manhattan. GGA Image ID # 142abf7bcf

It will form a medium under which funds can be raised without respect to the debt limit or the borrowing capacity of any of the component parts of the Port District, and it will not only have local interest but of the port in general and of the commerce of the whole country. Neither New York nor New Jersey can work out the best plan for the port by itself.

New York's problem is not local. It passes under normal conditions half of the foreign commerce of the United States. It has in its immediate surroundings the greatest concentration of population and industry on the American continent, and as far as the port facilities are concerned they must be not only for local benefit, but for the benefit of the nation; as such they must be removed from the strife of political manipulations and jealousies and placed where they belong under a jurisdiction that will spread beyond political subdivisions and will resolve the many individual interests into an administration working along business and economic lines.

There is the danger unless the component parts of the Port cease wrangling among themselves and get down to the consideration of the development of the port as a business entity that the Federal Government may step in and the control of the port be changed from local to national.

Docking the Imperator in the North River

Docking the Imperator in the North River. GGA Image ID # 142b304e72

It seems likely that such a situation which would surely be affected by political changes and by the jealousies of other ports and sections of the country, would not solve the problem so well as if the control and administration of the port were retained within the Port District where there is local knowledge and local pride, and under which it is probable that the best results could be achieved, not only for the port itself but for the entire nation.

The magnitude of the business at the Port of New York is so great, the problems involved in the operation of the port are so numerous and so complex that no physical plan of reorganization or operation can be effected unless the factors are ascertained and studied in detail and completeness, and unless it is supported by the economic proof of soundness.

New York, The Greatest Port in the World (1907)

Editorial Note.— For the plates from which this most interesting article is printed we are indebted to the "Broadway Magazine." The article so clearly portrays so many interesting features of New York City that we believe even New Yorkers themselves will find it as instructive as it is interesting— and we are sure that out-of-town readers will heartily welcome its reproduction here.

The New Custom House, New York

The New Custom House, New York. GGA Image ID # 142bf1f1a2

Kurd and Polack and Lett and Hun, Wallachian gypsies in their red sashes, strange people babbling a hundred languages, cargoes of spice from the Indies, sugar and coffee and ivory from the hot, lazy ports to the south, teas from China, milk from Denmark, rugs and drugs and silks from Singapore, fully one hundred million dollars' worth of merchandise a month — all cast in heterogeneous confusion and tumult by a thousand ships into that hungry, eager mouth, the port of New York.

War ships, heavy with menace, steam slowly up the Narrows, visitors from Russia, Germany, France, from the yellow Eastern Seas; ferry-boats splashing their smooth way across river and harbor; tugs plying crisscross like clucking, crazy hens in the choppy waters.

A string of freight cars, ten strings, fifty strings, go floating by. A big liner, black with travelers, docks at its North River pier; oyster-boats bob in the Gansevoort Market basin. Massachusetts fishermen in the East River cluster about the Fulton Street slip; coastwise steamers back away from their moorings and float outward. There, on the Brooklyn shore, the greatest warehouses in the world welcome the commercial booty of the earth—thirty million tons of it a year.

And wheat from the great Western prairies moves through these Narrows to supply the whole world with energy, and cattle by the tens of thousands and provisions by the tons! Oil from the Texas and Kansas fields, bound for London and Amsterdam; machinery for digging ditches in Arabia and Panama; typewriters for Persia; phonographs for the idle lords of Mozambique; cash-registers for the Boers; threshing machines for Cape Town. Here is the sally port of the American invasion.

For this, the port of New York is the greatest in the world. More than twice as many vessels clear the port of London, to be sure, — one every fourteen minutes as against one every half-hour for New York but the average cargo value is only $47,242, whereas that of New York is $92,307.

Luggage In the Hands of The Inspectors.

Luggage In the Hands of The Inspectors. GGA Image ID # 142c3132a9

In point of tonnage, New York exceeds London by one million. This is due to a difference in the character of the ports that must be borne in mind in comparing them. London is England's one commercial center and. aside from Liverpool, its only great place of export and import.

It has, too, practically a monopoly on the coastwise trade of the kingdom, for practically all manufactured articles come to London either for export or for distribution to other parts of the kingdom. Cotton goods are shipped by water from Birmingham to London; from London, they are shipped by water to other parts of England, Ireland and Scotland, or to foreign ports.

On the other hand, New York is not the commercial center of America. When the manufacturer of shoes in Boston sends his goods to Baltimore, he either sends them by rail or by vessel direct, without entering New York. If he wants to send his goods to France or Germany, he sends them from the port of Boston. That is, the chief ports of the Atlantic seacoast, New Orleans, Charleston, Mobile, Norfolk, Philadelphia and Boston, engage a coastwise and foreign trade in entire independence of New York.

Ellis Island, The Receiving Station for Immigrants

Ellis Island, The Receiving Station for Immigrants. GGA Image ID # 142c36d578

Less than twenty-eight per cent, of New York's tonnage is represented in coastwise trade, whereas fully fifty percent, of London's is coastwise. In other words, of London's commerce, amounting to $1,370,000,000 annually, only $685,000,000 represents foreign trade, whereas of New York's $1,200,000,000 annual commerce $864,000,000 represents foreign trade, or an actual excess over London of $179,000,000.

To accommodate this enormous trade, New York has four hundred and four miles of improved water frontage; that is, four hundred and four miles of docks. This is half the distance between New York and Chicago. London has less than two hundred miles of similar water frontage; Liverpool has less than one hundred miles, while Hamburg, Antwerp, Rotterdam or Havre has each less than Liverpool. Practically all the available water frontage of these foreign ports has been absorbed by their docks, while New York has improved only a little over one-half of its available shore. When all the available coastline is improved, as it must be rapidly, it will measure nearly as many miles as lie between the Atlantic seaboard and the Mississippi River.

First in importance of the seriously considered improvements is Jamaica Bay, east of Coney, on Long Island—six hours nearer New York than any other available point outside the immediate harbor. The long channel trip is avoided, the route to sea is shorter and more direct, and more than enough time is thereby saved to make the train trip to Manhattan inconsiderable.

Improved railroad1 facilities, by tunnels under the city and rivers, and the tremendous railroad development of western Long Island, already under way, make Jamaica Bay as near the center of the city as South Brooklyn or Jersey. By these improved facilities, passengers and freight can be carried directly through or about the city to or from any portion of the North American continent.

Twenty years from now, the tourist to Europe may cross the continent and never leave his car until the train draws up on a Jamaica Bay dock. The saving of time in mails is of even greater importance to the commercial world. With four-day boats, daily mails and quick transmission through the post-office, the time now taken for a letter mailed in London to a New York address will be reduced one-half.

Come Aboard (left) and a Typical Crowd of Immigrants.

Come Aboard (left) and a Typical Crowd of Immigrants. GGA Image ID # 142d30967b

A year ago, Mayor McCIellan, co-operating with business organizations of the city, appointed a commission to examine the feasibility of the Jamaica Bay project and to suggest plans for its realization.

The Jamaica Bay Improvement Commission has recommended the purchase of 9,000 acres of shore land around the bay at a cost of $36,000,000, draining and walling it at a cost of $27,000,000, and then spending $50,000,000 more for buildings and docks.

Governor's Island, In New York Harbor

Governor's Island, In New York Harbor. GGA Image ID # 142d72cc60

The city would cooperate with the Federal government in dredging the bay itself to a depth of fifty feet, the sand removed being utilized to build up the shore land. The Federal government, it is suggested, would build a long jetty out into the ocean and dredge a channel to the bay. The route suggested would bring ocean steamships to New York along a channel running up around by Coney Island and Manhattan Beach.

Part of New York's Four Hundred and Four Miles of Docks

Part of New York's Four Hundred and Four Miles of Docks. GGA Image ID # 142da83667

The bay is dotted with numerous small islands. It is proposed that two large new islands with a deep channel between be constructed in the center of the bay, and a third near its entrance. These islands would furnish additional docking and warehouse space and would be connected with the mainland by drawbridges, allowing the portage of freight by train to the wharf where a vessel was loading.

Meanwhile the water frontage of Manhattan Island is practically taken up.

Type of Coastwise Passenger Steamer

Type of Coastwise Passenger Steamer. GGA Image ID # 142ddfa6e3

Improved docks will merely facilitate the handling of the merchandise already passing over the piers, and that merchandise, coming in and going out of the port of New York in a single year, represents enough money to build six Panama canals.

It is almost equal to the stock of gold held in the United States, and more than double all the British gold above ground. It is worth more than half the silver money of the world. It would pay off our national debt and leave enough surplus to buy a score of such archipelagoes as the Philippines.

The Harbor Ferry (left) and the The Ocean Ferry.

The Harbor Ferry (left) and the The Ocean Ferry. GGA Image ID # 142e760d8e

Fourteen great transatlantic steamship companies, comprising a fleet of eighty-seven mammoth liners for transporting passengers and fast freight between the old and the new worlds, handle in part this enormous trade. Over two hundred other steamers ply regularly between New York and cities on the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Mexico and South American ports. The cargo steamers and freighters are legion.

Freight Trains Afloat

Freight Trains Afloat. GGA Image ID # 142e80dc99

The figures given represent only foreign or custom-house business of the port. The railways handle far more freight in the waters around the city than the total of this foreign commerce, vast as it is. No less than seven thousand freight cars are daily floated over the harbor or the rivers around Manhattan Island. One railroad company alone, the New York, New Haven and Hartford, floats two thousand cars daily, carrying the hundred and fifty million pairs of shoes and other manufacturing products that Massachusetts contributes to the country, including a hundred million dollars in hardware and metal goods and three or four times that value in textiles.

Where the Tramp Steamers Dock on the East River

Where the Tramp Steamers Dock on the East River. GGA Image ID # 142eb750b8

Then there is the passenger business of the harbor. Thirty-two ferry companies operate over two hundred ferryboats and carry over half a million people daily in and out of Manhattan. The coasting steamships, the river and Sound boats, totaling about one hundred and fifty steamship lines, carrying their millions also — the full amount has never been figured.

Finally, there are nearly a million emigrants who come in every year at Ellis Island, keeping company, so to say, with half a million tourists who travel in the first and second cabins of the ocean greyhounds.

The Lusitania Passing Hoboken on her Maiden Voyage.

The Lusitania Passing Hoboken on her Maiden Voyage. GGA Image ID # 142eca83ce

Yet in only one direction has New York manifested an interest in the shipping, and that is the protection of its water-front from fire. In this respect New York has set an example for the world. Her harbor fire-fighters are models of efficiency and have demonstrated their worth conclusively.

The fire department maintains a fleet of ten fire-boats, so distributed that no one of them is more than ten minutes away from any important dock. In case of a serious waterfront fire, all of them may be called on.

The newest of these boats is equal in throwing capacity to about seven modern steam fire engines; combined, the entire fleet can throw seventy-five thousand gallons a minute, or as much as a moderate-sized river could discharge. These fire-boats represent an investment of three-quarters of a million dollars, and the harbor fire department costs the city almost a fourth of a million annually.

Fort Pond Bay, The Port of the Future, at the Extreme End of Long Island

Fort Pond Bay, The Port of the Future, at the Extreme End of Long Island. GGA Image ID # 142f07b26c

But it took a quarter of a century of constant agitation to stir the city to make over at least a bit of its archaic wharf age, and when the cost of the Chelsea Improvements was announced, $12,000,000 to build a stretch of seven modern docks from near Fourteenth Street to Twenty-third Street, along the North River, a spasm of economy seized the city government.

Luckily, the mayor and the civic officials behind the movement displayed a callous disregard of these conscientious scruples and the money was appropriated. The work has been very slow, and while the new docks will be a boon, a little forethought would have made them of far greater value to the port. The piers are 850 feet long and of corresponding width, slit with a water stretch between each of two hundred feet.

Commodious warehouses will occupy each pier and a system of freight transference will facilitate the handling of cargoes. These piers will not be completed and ready for use for several years. Meanwhile one eight hundred foot liner has already entered the port and the air is thick with rumors of the thousand-foot vessel. When ships of this size enter the port, the Chelsea docks will be hardly more adequate than a ferry-slip.

Unloading the Christmas Mail of an Ocean Liner

Unloading the Christmas Mail of an Ocean Liner. GGA Image ID # 142f826437

But in the main, private enterprise has, as usual, blazed the path for civic improvements. Traffic tendencies have long pointed to South Brooklyn as the inevitable freight-shipping district of Greater New York.

Recognizing this, a private corporation, the Bush Terminal Company, acquired water frontage along the South Brooklyn shore and has erected a huge ocean terminal, comprising about one hundred large warehouses, together with seven large piers, the largest in the world, each 1,340 feet long, 150 feet wide and with a water space between piers of 250 feet, affording dock room between each pier for two of the largest ocean liners ever floated. The wisdom and fore sight of the company has been amply proved by the fact that twenty-five steamship lines are already using these piers.

The Coastwise Fishing Trade.

The Coastwise Fishing Trade. GGA Image ID # 142f8c1b0d

Realizing the success of the Bush Terminal, a long strip south of Twenty-eighth Street, South Brooklyn, is being considered by the city, and if purchased will cost $7,000,000 for land alone, besides another strip on the same shore two miles farther south in contemplation. Plans drawn for these new docks call for an expenditure of $23,000,000 and specify that the work be completed in two years. In fact, plans already under way indicate that in the course of the next three years the city will spend at least $60,000,000 on harbor improvements.

The Federal government has always regarded New York as its most important naval station. Of the sixteen frowning forts that guard the southern and northern approaches to the metropolis. Fort Wadsworth, whose guns sweep the Narrows, is regarded as the most modern and powerful maintained by this government.

From the Wharf to the Market

From the Wharf to the Market. GGA Image ID # 142fd3d035

The harbor bed is protected by a network of wires, several hundred miles in length, so that on short notice the government could mine all approaching waters so effectually that no hostile fleet would hazard an attempt to enter the harbor. In short, governmental authorities assert that New York has the best protected harbor in the world, and the cost of creating and maintaining this formidable system of defense runs into the hundreds of millions.

The Brooklyn navy-yard, which occupies about two hundred acres along the East River is the most important of the eight navy-yards in the country, and furnishes employment for five thousand men. The North Atlantic Squadron depends mainly on this yard for its repairs and supplies.

If Place on Broadway, The Lusitania Would Extend From Twenty-Third Street to Twenty-Sixth Street

If Place on Broadway, The Lusitania Would Extend From Twenty-Third Street to Twenty-Sixth Street. GGA Image ID # 143018b89f

There are several dry-docks of medium size, and one large dry-dock is building, capable of holding our largest battleship. Many colliers and small naval vessels are built here, although Congress has seen fit to authorize the construction of only one battleship—the Connecticut—at this yard in several years. Its machine shops are the largest and most complete maintained by the American government.

On Governor's Island, the United States Army has a post. Here the Department of the East has its headquarters, under Major-General Frederick D. Grant. The largest military prison in the East, and the most important arsenal in the country are located on this island, garrisoned by twelve hundred men.

Sectional View of the Lusitania, Biggest Ship Afloat.

Sectional View of the Lusitania, Biggest Ship Afloat. GGA Image ID # 143047defa

The government is spending $1,000,000 in building a reef on the southeast side of the island, which will almost double its acreage. From this little island off the Battery is governed all the forts that protect the sea approaches, as well as the Sandy Hook Proving Grounds, where all our big field and coast defense guns and much of our armor-plate are tested.

View of the Bow of the RMS Lusitania.

View of the Bow of the RMS Lusitania. GGA Image ID # 14305eecbb

The system of harbor lighting is unequalled. The magnificent statue of the Goddess of Liberty is, of course, most conspicuous; but the electric lighting of the Gedney channel is far more useful. Every buoy that marks this channel is equipped with a powerful electric light, fed by means of heavily insulated wires stretching over the harbor bottom to shore, so that ships can enter the harbor almost as well by night as by day.

The lighthouses and light ships that illumine the sea approaches by night, together with the steam sirens and fog-horns of daily guidance, make the roads of entry the safest of any great port in the world.

On the development of the harbor as a marine and naval station the Federal government has spent millions of dollars, but on its development as a commercial port, aside from maintaining a system of lighting, it has not paid out a penny, even while spending millions on the creation of a harbor at Port Arthur, Texas, a spot of earth that the vast commercial interests of the country had never even heard of and which, in the wildest dreams of its most enthusiastic promoters, could never become a port of vital concern to the country as a whole.

However, New York, the front gate of the nation, the greatest port in the world, could not get a dollar until what might have been expected happened.

The Cunard Steamship Company announced the building of the twin passenger and freight steamships Lusitania and Mauritania, the largest ships afloat, each eight hundred feet long and drawing thirty-two feet of water.

How on earth could these ships enter New York harbor through a channel only thirty feet in depth? Congress puzzled over this problem. Doubtless, many ingenious devices were suggested in the committee rooms.

Finally, the construction of a new channel was authorized. That was four years ago and the new Ambrose channel is practically completed. This channel is seven miles long, two thousand feet wide and forty feet deep. It leads directly across the shoals through which the main channel winds its way and saves a distance of six miles and from three to five hours in passage.

The task of digging this ocean lane has been titanic; millions of tons have been removed and dumped far out at sea. A depth of thirty-five feet is now maintained throughout its entire length for a width of less than one thousand feet.

Another year will be required to complete the work in detail, and its cost, originally estimated at $4,000,000, will probably exceed that sum by at least a million. At night this channel will be illumined by buoy lights, even more brilliantly than is the Gedney channel now.

As in the case of the city, once having set to work, the Federal government promises to carry it on with skill and energy.

Huge Smokestacks of the Lusitania.

Huge Smokestacks of the Lusitania. GGA Image ID # 1430f8cb54

A deeper channel is already being constructed in the Kill von Kull around Staten Island, to enable freighters to use that section, opening up the west coast of the island and the Jersey shore for commercial development. Additional work is being performed by harbor engineers under the Secretary of War in clearing and deepening Buttermilk, Bay Ridge, Red Hook and other channels.

The most important part of the New York water front for the immediate future lies along the shores of South Brooklyn, and recognizing this, the government is deepening the approaching channels which eventually are to have a depth of forty feet.

In other words, after a quarter-century of sloth and negligence, both municipal and federal authorities have awakened to the necessity of providing for the port of New York those commercial facilities which are the legitimate cares of government.

Undoubtedly, the next five years will see the condemnation of the hundred miles of antique and archaic wharf structures that now cumber the shores of Manhattan Island and that portion of Brooklyn lying opposite Manhattan, to make room for modern, adequate and commodious piers and warehouses.

The Lusitania is "Back From Europe," Waiting to Welcome Returning Tourists.

The Lusitania is "Back From Europe," Waiting to Welcome Returning Tourists. GGA Image ID # 14310027d3

No man can estimate what the future commerce will be, but if the port grows at the pace set during the last twenty years, New York will be doing in 1930 exactly twice the business it is doing today.

Briefly, adequate facilities must be provided for an annual trade of $2,500,000,000. Already the greater steamship companies, the modern arteries of transatlantic trade, are preparing for such development as experience has taught them to expect.

Transatlantic steamship trade, so far as America is concerned, began to be a thing of importance with the first screw-propelled ship, the Great Britain, which entered the port in 1845, twenty years after the first steamship, the Savannah, crossed the ocean.

Since then steamships have multiplied until today the Hamburg America Line maintains a schedule of three European sailings a week, and fully fifty liners clear the port every seven days.

The builders of steamships, to meet trade necessities, have sought steadily two things, great size and great speed. In 1862, the Scotia made the trip from New York to Liverpool in nine days; in 1894, the Lucania made the same passage in five and one-half days. In 1871, came the first monster ship, the Oceanic, a little over four hundred feet long. Last August came the Adriatic, 726 feet long, nearly double the length of the Oceanic.

The White Star Line Piers at the Port of New York circa 1907.

The White Star Line Piers at the Port of New York circa 1907. GGA Image ID # 144f413ce0

The record-making ships, hitherto, have not been the biggest ships, but in September there entered the port a ship that combined speed and capacity, the Lusitania, the largest ship afloat, 790 feet long, which made the passage from Queenstown to New York in five clays and fifty-four minutes.

The commercial world regards the Lusitania, as the ship of the next decade— and then the thousand-foot, four-day boat will take its place!

But the ship of the decade is certainly wonderful enough for the lay mind. If she were laid down on Broadway, her nose touching the Flatiron building, her stern would extend beyond Twenty-sixth Street—three blocks distant—and her bulk would be a third as wide again as the street.

Her decks would tower above the top of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, her stacks exceed in height the twelve-story St. James building, and the twenty-two story Flatiron would exceed the height of her masthead by only a few feet!

Huge as this vessel is, however, the thousand-foot ship, which will reach a European commercial port in three to four days, is swiftly becoming a commercial necessity. In planning facilities for the port of New York, the municipality and the Federal government must face this certainty just as it must the necessity and certainty of a Jamaica Bay or even a Montauk Point transoceanic terminal.

But while the greatest port in the world will have developed all its shore-line in a generation, the commerce of two continents still awaits American exploitation, and this can only be accomplished by our own merchant marine.

Of the three hundred ocean steamships that ply regularly in and out of New York Harbor to-day, only four of those that cross the Atlantic fly the American flag. The showing as to cargo steamers is little better.

America really has no merchant marine outside of the Great Lakes and the coast-plying boats. The 430,000 tonnage built last year was almost all for home service, while the 2,000,000 tonnage of Great Britain was nearly all for foreign service.

When the above facts are realized, our merchant marine created and New York becomes the market-place of the world, even its thousand miles of improved waterfront will be unable to handle the traffic. New York must go without its limits for increased facilities.

Already speculation is rife and the commercial world is looking to Montauk, the easterly end of Long Island, one hundred miles from the Battery, as the port of 1950. Here is a great bay, perfectly sheltered and 150 miles nearer Europe than New York. It is, too, nearer South America, the Panama Canal and Africa.

Construction on a great railway system is already beginning to this point; in other words the tracks are being laid for the traffic of half a century hence when Montauk shall be part of the port of New York—the port whose tonnage will run into the billions, and commerce into the tens of billions, the port that will serve the world and use London, Hamburg, Sydney, Cape Town, Buenos Ayres, as relay stations, when New York will be a city of fifteen millions, the greatest city and the greatest port in the history of the world.

Tugboats in New York Harbor.

Tugboats in New York Harbor. GGA Image ID # 14313c8b0a


Sailing Schedules


White Star Line American and Colonial Services. Proposed Sailings from 22 August 1905 to 28 October 1905.

White Star Line American and Colonial Services. Proposed Sailings from 22 August 1905 to 28 October 1905. Ships Include the Arabic, Baltic, Canopic, Cedric, Celtic, Cretic, Cymric, Majestic, Oceanic, Republic, Romanic, and Teutonic. MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE—The "Arabic" sails from New York on Feb. 8th, 1906, for an extended Cruise to the Mediterranean under charter to Mr. F. C. Clark and will call at Madeira, Cadiz, Gibraltar, Algiers, Malta, Athens (Phaleron Bay), Constantinople, Smyrna. Haifa, Jaffa, Alexandria, Naples, and Villefranche, returning thence via Liverpool to New York, particulars on application to any of the Company's offices. RMS Majestic Passenger List, 30 August 1905. GGA Image ID # 1dd41e606f


White Star Line Liverpool-New York Service from 18 August 1905 to 10 January 1906.

White Star Line Liverpool-New York Service from 18 August 1905 to 10 January 1906. Ships Include the Baltic, Cedric, Celtic, Majestic, and Teutonic. Special Trains for Passengers leave Easton Station. London, direct to Riverside Station, Liverpool, in connection with the above sailings, or Passengers may leave by the 10:00 a.m. Fast Express from St. Paneras. RMS Majestic Passenger List, 30 August 1905. GGA Image ID # 1dd49614e0. Click for Larger Image.


White Star Line Mediterranean Service Proposed Sailings from 29 August 1922 to 13 April 1923.

White Star Line Mediterranean Service Proposed Sailings from 29 August 1922 to 13 April 1923. Ships Included the Adriatic, Arabic, Cretic, and Lapland. Ports Included New York, Boston, Azores, Madeira, Gibraltar, Algiers, Monaco, Naples, Genoa, Alexandria, Haifa, Athens (Phaleron Bay), and Nice. RMS Majestic Passenger List, 6 September 1922. GGA Image ID # 1dd525881f. Click to View Larger Image.



“Proposed Reorganization of the Port of New York.” In “Nauticus” A Journal of Shipping, Insurance, Investments and Engineering, Volume 11, No. 141, New York, January 29, 1921, Page 26.

“The Port of New York: An Overview of the Operations and Problems,” In Nauticus: A Journal of Shipping, Insurance, Investments and Engineering, Volume 11, No. 140, New York, January 22, 1921, Pages 20-24.

Alexander R. Smith (Comp. & Ed.), Port of New York Annual, New York: Smith's Port Publishing Company, Inc., 1920.

Charles H. Cochrane, “The Greatest Port in the World,” in The Business World, Volume 27, Number 11, December 1907, P. 1228-1240

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