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Powder Monkeys of the Queens Midtown Tunnel

Typical gang of powder monkeys carrying power into the Queens shaft. Rappaport Studios. 3/1/1938.
Typical gang of powder monkeys carrying power into the Queens shaft. Rappaport Studios. 3/1/1938.
Most people know that construction workers who help build tunnels and work underground are called “sand hogs” but did you know they worked side-by-side with another colorfully-named group known as “powder monkeys?”
These photographs from the MTA Bridges and Tunnels Special Archive collection show various workers, including a group of powder monkeys, at work in the late 1930s during the building of the Queens Midtown Tunnel. 
In addition to the powder monkeys, workers toiled more than a year digging the construction shaft down to bedrock, carting muck and debris and shoring up the tunnel walls.
The tunnel was constructed by the New York City Tunnel Authority with funds provided by the Federal Public Works Administration. Ground was broken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in October 1936. It opened to traffic on Nov. 15, 1940.
The workers shown in the photos worked under Contract 4, which was the largest contract in terms of labor and cost with 5,942,000 man-hours at a cost of $22 million. The average hourly wage was $1.61. Construction took place round-the-clock, six days a week.
 The Queens Midtown Tunnel was one of six major urban infrastructure projects built by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, or its predecessor agencies, between 1936 and 1939.
 
:  View of electric locomotive, flat car and bucket of muck after it was hoisted to the surface. Rappaport Studios. 3/1/1938
: View of electric locomotive, flat car and bucket of muck after it was hoisted to the surface. Rappaport Studios. 3/1/1938
Two workers deep in the back of the tunnel secure steel rib roof supports. Rappaport Studios. 3/1/1938
Two workers deep in the back of the tunnel secure steel rib roof supports. Rappaport Studios. 3/1/1938
Sand hogs using a 5-foot ratchet wrench, tightening a cast-iron tunnel lining bolt. Photographer: Michael Bobco for Somach Photo Service. 2/26/1939
Sand hogs using a 5-foot ratchet wrench, tightening a cast-iron tunnel lining bolt. Photographer: Michael Bobco for Somach Photo Service. 2/26/1939