A Grand Idea: How William J. Wilgus Created Grand Central Terminal

HarperCollins/Quill Tree. Jan. 2024. 48p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780063064744.
K-Gr 4–Hoyt and Szalay’s words and pictures respectively recreate a noble idea followed by a miraculous set of circumstances, including the right people in the right place at the right time, who set it in motion. Anyone who has ever set foot into Grand Central Terminal in New York City knows what an iconic hub it has become. But who had the vision? William J. Wilgus was a chief engineer who saw that the coal-powered trains were part of a gigantic, city-clogging problem, and when two trains crashed and 55 people were “injured or worse,” he set about inventing trains that would be steam-powered and require electricity. He also came up with plans that included two stories of train track, as much steel as three Eiffel Towers, a notion to run those tracks underground, and enlisted the wealthy Vanderbilts to fund it. The details of this story are themselves electrifying—that one man envisioned all this and then set about making it happen is clearly explained, fully illustrated, and brilliant. There are fights! The Vanderbilts have their own ideas about who should be the architects. There are delays! Arguing materials, paths, logistics—it all takes time. Then, the building opens about a decade after it’s first considered, and it’s beautiful. The stories after that are also included—from the sale of the “air rights” above it to bring in money, to the dawn of the aviation age and Grand Central’s fall into disrepair. Resplendent paintings, in a style that borrows the flat forms of American folk art, bring all this to life, while the afterword and time line of events help readers get their bearings in history, not only of New York City, but globally as well.
VERDICT A charming tale, and to think it’s all true! Whether readers are train and construction buffs or not, this is a living, breathing biography of a building, and the man who believed in it from the ground up. Extraordinary.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing