Part of the neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn,
Bush Terminal covered 200 acres (abut 81 hectares)
at its peak. It is bounded by Upper New York Bay's
Gowanus Bay to the west and north, by 3rd Avenue
to the east, and--at its peak--between 27th Street,
Brooklyn to the north and 50th Street to the south.
The terminal was the largest of its kind in the
world, served as an intermodal hub for railways
and cargo ships, and as a model for other integrated
cargo facilities. The Bush Terminal Co. handled all
the shipping for tenants of the buildings within the
facility. It was the first American example of
completely integrated manufacturing and warehousing,
served by both rail and water transportation, under
a unified management, as well as the largest multi-
tenant industrial property in the United States.
1895-1902: Concept and Beginnings
Bush Terminal is named after its founder Irving T. Bush,
whose family name comes from Jan Bosch, born in the
Netherlands who immigrated to New Amsterdam (now New
York) in 1662.. Bush Terminal is thus in no way
related to the Bush political family.
What set Bush Terminal apart from other rail-marine
terminals in New York was its distance from Manhattan,
the magnitude of its warehousing and manufacturing
operations, and its fully-integrated nature.
Wholesalers in Manhattan faced expensive time,
transportation, and labor costs when importing and
then re-sending goods. So in 1895, Irving T. Bush,
working under the name of his family's company, The
Bush Co., organized six warehouses and one pier on
the waterfront of South Brooklyn as a freight handling
terminal. There had only been one warehouse on the site
in 1890, and before that, the land contained an oil
refinery belonging to the Bush & Denslow company of
Rufus T. Bush, Irving T. Bush's father. Standard Oil
bought this refinery in the 1880s and dismantled it,
but after Rufus T. Bush's death in 1890, Irving T.
Bush later bought the land back using his father's
The terminal in its early days was derided as
"Bush's Folly." Railroad officials would not ship
directly to Brooklyn, which required the extra cost
of loading freight cars on car floats for the trip
across New York Harbor to the ferry slips at the
terminal, unless they first had orders of freight.
Irving T. Bush resorted to sending an agent to
Michigan with instructions to buy 100 carloads of
hay, then to attempt to have the hay sent in its
original railcar to Bush's terminal in Brooklyn.
Eastern railroad companies declined their western
agents' request to send the hay, until eventually,
the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad agreed to accept the
offer and negotiate directly with the new terminal.
Other railways followed.
To demonstrate that ocean vessels could (& should)
dock at the piers, Irving T. Bush leased ships and
entered the banana business (and made a profit while
doing so). Likewise, to induce businesses to store
goods at his terminal's warehouses, he warehoused
coffee and cotton himself.
Once Bush Terminal succeeded and expanded, sources
credited Bush's "keen foresight" for undertaking
such a "quixotic" business venture.
1902 through World War II: Expansion and Zenith
The Bush Company terminal business became the Bush
Terminal Co. in 1902 when Irving T. Bush bought the
land from the Standard Oil Co. The warehouses were
built circa 1892-1910, the railroad from 1896 to
1915, and the factory lofts between 1905 and 1925.
Together, Bush Terminal offered economies of scale
for its tenants, so that even the smallest concerns
had available to them the type of facilities normally
only available to large, well-capitalized firms.
As of 1918, Bush Terminal owned 3,100 feet (944 m)
of waterfront in Brooklyn and covered 20 waterfront
blocks. Seven piers extended over 1,200 feet into
the harbor and were at least 150 feet wide. Each pier
was enclosed. Twenty-five steamship lines used these
piers, and as of 1910, Bush Terminal handled 10% of
all steamships arriving at New York. Eventually,
Bush Terminal handled 50,000 railroad freight cars
and had eight piers that docked vessels from 25
Once freight was offloaded from vessels or ready for
shipment, it could be stored within one of 118
warehouses, ranging in height from one to eight
stories. Together, they could hold 25,000,000 cubic
feet (708,000 cubic meters) of goods.
The company operated the Bush Terminal Railroad Co.,
which had about twenty miles of track within the
terminal. The terminal's railroad greatly reduced
shippers' cost to haul freight from their facilities
to a railyard. The rail yard could hold about 1,000
freight cars and was six blocks long. The terminal
also owned two miles of track through Brooklyn to
connect with the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The twelve buildings for manufacturers that had been
built by 1918 housed about 300 companies. The
buildings, which had 150 freight elevators were
mostly u-shaped to facilitate loading at rail sidings.
To give an example of Bush Terminal's scale, as of the
1970s, the facility's buildings had 263,740 window
panes in their walls and 138 miles of fire sprinklers
running within them. The terminal had two power plants
for steam and light, plus a bank, restaurants, and even
a trolley to provide transportation for workers. In
addition to a hall for longshoremen, an administration
building was constructed circa 1895 to 1902.
World War I
The U.S. Navy first commandeered the piers & warehouses
of the Bush Terminal Co. on 12/31/1917. By June 1918,
Assistant Secretary of the Navy (and later President
of the United States) Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote to
Irving T. Bush to tell him that the Navy would also be
commandeering four of Bush Terminal's 12 manufacturing
buildings, meaning that 64 manufacturers employing
4,500 people would have to vacate. The United States
Navy tied its rail lines into those of the Bush Terminal
in 1918 Irving T. Bush not only complied, but he helped
to design its southern neighbor, the Brooklyn Army
Terminal in 1918. The Federal Govt quietly returned
Bush Terminal to private ownership after the war.
The Interwar Years
Bush Terminal was an integral part of Sunset Park,
Brooklyn. The terminal's fortunes rose with those of
the borough of Brooklyn, which had more than 2.5
million residents by 1930.The terminal employed
thousands directly and many thousands more worked
for firms within Bush Terminal.
Besides its own police force, fire department, rail
system, steam & power plants, & deep water piers,
workers in the terminal created their own system of
courts as a form of self-policing.
Though Bush Terminal Co went into receivership during
the Depression, operations continued relatively
unaltered through the 1930s.
Structures Outside Brooklyn
Early in the century, the Bush Terminal Company
commissioned architects Kirby, Petit, and Green to
design its headquarters building in Manhattan at
100 Broad St (at the intersection with Pearl and
Bridge streets). The relatively small yet notable
five-story office building was located on the site
of Manhattan's first church (from 1633) and
featured a "Gothic design with a strong flavor
The terminal also funded construction of Bush Tower,
a 30-story skyscraper near Times Square in Manhattan,
where tenants of Bush Terminal were offered display
space to showcase their goods, above a club for buyers
visiting New York.
The Bush Terminal Co attempted a similar melding of
commercial displays and social space at Bush House in
London, built in three phases during the 1920s, but
the concept was not fully carried through at that project.
World War II
During WWII, Bush Terminal buildings were again seized
by the federal government for war use and as a focus
for the shipment of goods overseas. FDR's campaign
swing around New York City on Oct. 21, 1944 started
at the Brooklyn Army Base and adjacent Bush Terminal.
Since World War II: Active Buildings, Declining Piers
Sunset Park began to suffer economic decline even
before World War II, due to the Great Depression, the
end of the 3rd Avenue elevated line and the 1941
construction and widening of the Gowanus Expressway.
After the war, "white flight," the maritime industry's
move to New Jersey, & the deactivation of the Brooklyn
Army Terminal from the 1970s (until its reopening in as
a industrial park in 1987) also hurt the neighborhood.
But this decline did not greatly affect Bush Terminal.
Though its piers are now defunct and its rail system
is much smaller than it was before World War II (nor
is it operated by Bush Terminal), the buildings and
warehouses at Bush Terminal did not suffer the
abandonment so common across the United States after
World War II.
Irving T. Bush died in 1948 and a statue to him was
dedicated in 1950 at Bush Terminal's Brooklyn
administration building by his niece Helen Tunison
in front of 3,000 notables and terminal employees.
Shortly thereafter, starting in the early 1950s and
continuing into the 1960s, the Topps company of
chewing gum and baseball card fame, produced baseball
cards at Bush Terminal. Topps moved production to
Pennsylvania in 1965 and its offices to Manhattan in
By 1961, the Bush Terminal Company sold its lower
Manhattan headquarters building (which was soon
demolished) and consolidated its offices at the
A real estate group led by Harry Helmsley (husband
of the infamous Leona Helmsley) bought Bush Terminal
in 1963. The complex maintained 95% occupancy through
the middle of the 1970s, when 25,000 people were
employed by the terminal company or firms located
there. Renamed Industrial City, by the mid-1980s,
Bush Terminal housed the highest concentration of
garment manufacturers in New York City outside of
Manhattan. Even in the 1990s, the terminal offered
6.5 million sq ft of floor space (about 600,000
square meters) in 16 buildings that were as tall
as twelve stories, and buildings at the site were
still mostly occupied.
The railway however greatly declined after WW II,
and Bush Terminal Railway went defunct in the 1970s,
its operations continued by the NY Dock Railroad.
As of 2006, the car floats and Bush Terminal Rail
Yard are operated by New York New Jersey Rail LLC.
Shipping activity at Bush Terminal also declined
after WW II. The introduction of containerized
shipping and the construction of the Port Newark-
Elizabeth Marine Terminal in New Jersey hastened
the decline of sea traffic to Bush Terminal.
Prior to 1974, Bush Terminal was still an active
port facility, with vessels that docked between
its piers. In 1974, the City of New York Dept of
Ports and Terminals hired a private company to
fill the spaces between Piers 1 through 4 to make
space for parking shipping containers. Filling
however was halted in 1978 after reports of
environmental violations. New York City officials
later learned that toxic wastes including oils,
oil sludges, and wastewaters had been dumped at the
site, making the 4 piers a polluted brownfield.
In 2006, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor
George Pataki announced a $36 million plan to
clean up and redevelop the Bush Terminal piers.
The plan included a $17.8 million grant from the
state of New York, the largest single grant New
York state had ever awarded to clean a brownfield
Bush Terminal was not only one of the first and
largest integrated cargo and manufacturing sites
in the world, it served as a model for other
industrial parks, offered employment to thousands,
and still exists today. Besides funding other
important buildings such as a Bush Tower and Bush
House, it served during both World Wars, influenced
the design of the Brooklyn Army Terminal, and
affected the growth of Brooklyn and New York City.
And, the connection to the ON topic things here is... ?
From (David P.)? Why none, of course.
"Evidence confirming an observation is
evidence that the observation is wrong."
I have been searching for any info. on an explosion in the 1950's. I
lived on 46th St. between 2nd & 3rd Ave. I was skating on the street
when I heard the fire engines. I skated to 39th & 2nd Ave, a bar was
right on the corner. Next thing I knew was a hugh boom & some woman
standing near me threw me up against the bar. I lost a wonderful
friend & remember a man running with a big piece of glass sticking out
of his back. Do you happen to have any info on this explosion? Liz