In the years following the Civil War, the land west of the Mississippi River was being settled and the Pacific Northwest explored. There remained, however, a large portion of Montana, Idaho, and Washington that contained enormous quantities of timber and minerals, but was not accessible by rail. By far the most grueling stretch was the Stevens Pass area in the Cascade Mountains.
A transportation tunnel under the Hudson River connecting Manhattan and New Jersey was first considered in the 1860s, fueled by New York City's rapidly growing congestion and the inadequacy of existing ferry service to population centers across the river. DeWitt Clinton Haskin, an engineer formerly with the Union Pacific Railroad, started the project in 1874 and subsequently endured an extended lawsuit, several failures of the tunnel wall, and an exhaustion of funds before quitting in 1887 with only 1,600 feet completed.
When first proposed in 1819, the Hoosac Tunnel seemed so logical. It would provide an efficient and direct route for the Boston and Albany Railroad, whose pathway meandered 20 miles along precipitous grades. Early proponents, however, could not have imagined that blasting a 4.75 mile tunnel through the Hoosac Mountain would require over 20 years of labor. The project took so long to complete that it was commonly referred to as "The Great Bore."
By the turn of the 19th century, London's streets were clogged with traffic. Over 3,700 passengers used the Thames River's main boat crossing each day, while wagons and carts were forced to cross via the London Bridge, two miles away. Building a bridge would further impede shipping on the already-crowded Thames; a tunnel was the obvious alternative.
The first attempt at a tunnel in the present location began in 1807. The excavation had proceeded only 1,000 feet-using traditional mining methods-when crews reached a layer of quicksand and were forced to stop.