Port Authority: 95th Anniversary of the Port Compact of 1921

1921 Signing of the Compact

Signing of the Compact of 1921

By Portfolio Editor Roz Hamlett

As far back as the 19th century, New York and New Jersey squabbled over the jurisdictional rights of the Hudson River, once even drawing an imaginary line down the middle of the river, which didn’t really help matters along.  The rivalry only got worse during World War I when congestion in New York Harbor became unmanageable.

That is, until the leaders of the New York Chamber of Commerce, Chairman Eugenius Outerbridge and Julius Henry Cohen, saw the harbor problem as more than the latest round of bickering and turmoil between the states.  For them, it was an opportunity to develop a unified port; they understood that cooperation between the two states would ultimately benefit both.

The end of April marks the 95th anniversary of the day their vision was realized and the Port Authority was born.  On that momentous Saturday in 1921, a group of men from New York and New Jersey, gathered in a spirit of civility inside the elaborately paneled Great Hall of the New York Chamber of Commerce in Lower Manhattan to sign the Port Compact, creating the Port District of New York & New Jersey, the first authority in the country.

They pledged their “faithful cooperation in the future planning and development of the Port of New York.”  By the following year, the agency had begun its mission of transportation and trade that has continued uninterruptedly for nearly a century.

In 1921, the Port District had 105 organized municipalities, was served by 12 trunk line railroads and transported more than 75 million tons of freight annually.  There were at least 8,000 foreign and domestic steamships maneuvering in and out of the Port, moving 45 million tons of goods.

During the ensuing years, the modern Port Authority of New York & New Jersey moved beyond the port to reshape completely the region and adapt the agency to the modern demands of the 20th and 21st centuries, giving rise to some of the most ambitious and breathtaking works in the history of civil engineering, including the Lincoln Tunnel, and the George Washington Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge and the Goethals Bridge.  The agency acquired jurisdictional rights to the Holland Tunnel in 1931.

After World War II, the bi-state agency spread its wings further to claim as one historian put it, “the skies and the seas,” emerging as a major political and economic force in the New York region and nationally, developing the busiest airports in the nation and participating in the containerization revolution at the port, as well as constructing the largest and busiest bus terminal in the world and acquiring and rehabilitating the PATH system.

There is no comparable transportation organization in the country, a documentarian once wrote, “which is so little known or understood by the people it serves – let alone by the tens of millions of Americans around the country whose lives have been influenced directly and indirectly by the [Port Authority].”

Did You Know:

1921 wasn’t notable only for the birth of today’s Port Authority.  Many incomparable brands and organizations launched that year have become famous and familiar trademarks.

  • The wildly popular Chanel No. 5 was introduced in 1921 by French couturier “Coco” Chanel, so named because Coco chose the fifth fragrance presented to her by her perfumer.
  • Guccio Gucci started out in Florence, Italy, with a small family-run luggage company.  Today, a vintage 1921 Gucci bag retails at close to $10,000.
  • Betty Crocker never lived, but the company of the same name was founded to handle thousands of responses to a contest promotion for Gold Medal flour.
  • Land O’Lakes butter was created after 320 dairy farmers met in St. Paul, Minn. to form the Minnesota Cooperative Creameries Association.
  • Sardi’s restaurant was founded by Northern Italian immigrants Vincent Sardi and Eugenia Pallera, not long after they landed at Ellis Island, and not far from the Walter Kerr Theater and the landmark Ambassador Theater, which also opened in 1921.
  • The first Miss America Pageant was held in Atlantic City, N.J.  
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