Robert Moses may be the most influential historical figure you’ve never heard of.
Moses was the master builder of New York. If you’ve ever set foot in a major city, he’s affected your life.
He built more infrastructure than any individual in modern history. To name a few of his works, he built Shea Stadium, Lincoln Center, Jones Beach, the United Nations headquarters in New York, the Henry Hudson Parkway, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and the Triborough Bridge.
He also had more public works named after him in his lifetime than any other non-president in American history: Two state parks, Robert Moses State Park (Thousand Islands) and Robert Moses State Park (Long Island); the Robert Moses Causeway on Long Island; the Robert Moses State Parkway in Niagara Falls, New York; and the Robert Moses Hydro-Electric Dam.
By the time he left office, he had built 658 playgrounds in New York City alone, plus 416 miles (669 km) of parkways and 13 bridges.1
There is not a section of New York City he did not touch.
Other builders — architects, engineers, and public officials — from around the world consulted him on many of the major building projects of the 20th century.
New York politics has never been for the faint of heart. In Moses’s era it was filled with names like Rockefeller, Roosevelt, and La Guardia.
Moses was not intimidated.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt was governor of New York, Moses once stormed into his office and shouted, “You’re a liar, Mr. Roosevelt.”
He referred to Fiorello H. La Guardia, possibly the most powerful mayor in the history of New York, as “that dago son of a bitch.”
Not only did these remarks not get him removed, Roosevelt and La Guardia actually gave Moses more power.
In his book, The Power Broker, biographer Robert Caro offers us a look at Robert Moses, focused around a single question:
How does one individual amass so much power?