Trained as a physicist with a specialty in radar, Guy F. Tozzoli went to work as a young engineer for the Port of New York Authority in 1946, and -- except for two years' military service during the Korean War -- would remain with the agency for the rest of his career. In that time, he would help pioneer the modern global trading economy -- then oversee the creation of its greatest symbol and instrument, the World Trade Center.
In the early 1950s, Tozzoli and his colleagues brought forth the greatest shift in commercial shipping since the advent of the ocean-going steamship. Working with a private entrepreneur named Malcolm McClain, Tozzoli helped design and build the world's first container port in Newark, New Jersey. No longer would freight be loaded crate by crate into the holds of ships -- the process known as "break-bulk." Now an entire truckful of goods would be placed into a giant steel container, lifted by heavy crane onto the deck of a ship, and, upon being unloaded, placed directly onto the flat car or the back of a truck, without ever being opened. Within a decade, ports around the world had adopted the radical new technique, whose costs were just 1/16 that of break-bulk. But the sprawling storage areas required by containerization were simply unavailable in older waterfront districts. In New York, maritime activity moved from the city's traditional finger piers to suburban New Jersey.
In February 1962, Tozzoli was given a new assignment which would remain his focus, in one way or another, for the next four decades. With formal approval imminent for the World Trade Center, the Port Authority's executive director, Austin J. Tobin, handed Tozzoli the daunting task of planning, constructing and operating what one journalist would later call "the largest building project since the Egyptians." Placed in charge of a new division of the Port Authority -- the World Trade Department -- Tozzoli began assembling his staff. "You can pick the best of the Port Authority," Tobin told him, "because this is our greatest project."
It was Tozzoli who determined the program for the project, which called for an astonishing 10 million square feet of office space, and selected the architect to carry it out, Minoru Yamasaki. It was Tozzoli, moreover, who adopted a suggestion from the Port Authority's public relations director, Lee K. Jaffe, to make the Trade Center's buildings the tallest in the world; he insisted that Yamasaki enlarge his proposal for 80-story towers to a pair of twin 110-story structures, with four million square feet of office space apiece.
Coordinating the Project
As work began, Tozzoli switched hats to become, in effect, the general contractor for the project, coordinating the efforts of 256 construction trades and saving millions of dollars by handing out the steel fabrication contracts not to a single large supplier but hundreds of smaller companies around the region. Along the way, Tozzoli fought successfully for the inclusion of a rooftop restaurant in the complex. Windows on the World (as it was eventually called) would quickly become one of the most popular and profitable dining establishments on the planet.
With construction underway, Tozzoli switched hats yet again, focusing his energies on renting the complex and supervising its opening. As part of that effort, he decided to gather similar projects around the globe into a World Trade Centers Association, which began in 1970 with members from 16 cities and seven countries. As the association's first (and to date only) president, Tozzoli watched the organization expand into the largest of its kind in the world, with a membership that now includes over 300 world trade centers in 91 countries, including Russia and China.
When terrorists detonated a truck bomb in the parking lot of the Trade Center in February 1993, Tozzoli -- who continued to maintain an office in the north tower -- spent three terrifying hours trapped in a staircase before escaping. On the morning of September 11, 2001, he was about to enter the Holland Tunnel, heading into Manhattan from New Jersey, when he first caught sight of the burning top of the north tower -- then watched in disbelief, horror and anger as the second plane rammed the south tower, setting in motion events that would destroy the project to which he had devoted most of his adult life. Over the next few days, he later recalled, he was deeply moved to receive hundreds of messages and letters from his association's members all around the world -- each one, he said, decrying the loss not of "your" but "our headquarters."
My American Experience
How did you first learn of the September 11 attacks? Do you remember what you were doing when the Twin Towers fell? What did it mean to you? Do you have specific memories of that day?