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Robert Moses

MOSES, ROBERT (1888–1981), U.S. parks and highways developer. Moses was born in New Haven, Connecticut, to well-to-do Spanish-Jewish parents. He denied his Jewish affiliation. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from Oxford University in 1911 and 1913, respectively. In 1914 he received a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University, writing his dissertation on British colonial administration. It was published as Civil Service of Great Britain (1914). He later wrote Theory and Practice in Politics (1939), Working for the People (1956), La Guardia: A Salute and a Memoir (1957), A Tribute to Governor Smith (1962), and Public Works: A Dangerous Trade (1970).

In 1919 Moses joined the staff of Governor Alfred E. Smith and served as chief of staff of a New York State commission on administrative reorganization. He then began his long career on state parks and highways agencies as president of the New York State Council of Parks (1924–63) and chairman of the Long Island State Parks Commission (1924–63). He also served as secretary of state for New York (1927–28). In 1934 Moses was the unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor of New York.

In 1934 Moses became Mayor Fiorello La Guardia's parks commissioner, a post he held under four mayors (to 1960). As commissioner, he inaugurated massive public works of the New Deal type. He was responsible, for example, for construction of the Triborough Bridge structures (dedicated 1936); Grand Central Parkway; Belt Parkway; West Side Highway and Henry Hudson Parkway, in Manhattan and the Bronx; East River (later called the Franklin D. Roosevelt) and Harlem River Drive, in Manhattan; Fire Island State Park; the Niagara power plant; and the Coliseum convention hall in Manhattan. His department developed 15 outdoor swimming pools, 84 miles of parkways, and 17 miles of beaches, including Jones Beach. The park acreage in New York City was increased from 14,000 acres to 34,673 acres. On the social level, he provided full entry for the city's working-class communities into a recreational world previously reserved for the middle and upper classes.

Moses also served as city construction coordinator (1946–60); as chairman of the Jones Beach State Parkway Authority (1933–63); as member (1934) and then chairman (1936–46) of the Triborough Bridge Authority and of the Consolidated Triborough Bridge and City Tunnel Authority (1946–68); as sole member (1938) of the New York City Parkway Authority; as chairman of the state committee on postwar employment (1948); and as chief consultant on public works to the federal Hoover Commission on Reorganization of the Executive Branch (1948). Among the city buildings he constructed were Shea Stadium, Lincoln Center, and the New York Aquarium in Coney Island.

Impatient for results, Moses was known as "the man who got things done." Outspoken and single-minded, he was frequently embroiled in controversies in which he displayed his acerbic wit and combative style. By the late 1950s, however, there was growing public resentment about his aggressive urban reconstruction programs. In 1960, Mayor Robert F. Wagner moved him out of his city positions to run the New York World's Fair of 1964. Under the administration of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Moses lost his positions in New York State and thus left state government in 1968. Finally, in 1972, Mayor John Lindsay refused to reappoint him to the Triborough Authority, which essentially ended Moses' career.

Considered the single most powerful individual in the city and state of New York in the 20th century, Moses was the most influential nonfederal public official in the U.S. of his time without ever being elected to public office. Some of the landmarks named in his honor include the Robert Moses State Park in Long Island; Robert Moses State Park at Massena; the Robert Moses Causeway on Long Island; the Robert Moses Parkway at Niagara; and the dams at Niagara and Massena.


C. Rodgers, Robert Moses: Builder for Democracy (1952). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Schwartz, The New York Approach (1993); B. Nicholson, Hi Ho, Come to the Fair (1990); E. Lewis, Public Entrepreneurship (1980); R. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (1975);

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.