Arthur Imperatore Sr.
Born: July 8, 1925, in West New York, New Jersey
Died: November 18, 2020, in New York City
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2016: Enterprise
Arthur Imperatore’s ferry service between Weehawken and Manhattan was initially derided as “Arthur’s Folly.” But Arthur Imperatore was no fool.
Although he was a giant of the transportation business, Imperatore never strayed far from his Hudson County roots. A native of West New York, he was the ninth of 10 children of an Italian-American grocer and his wife. Imperatore attended Memorial High School in West New York and served as a navigator in the Army Air Corps during World War II.
After the war, he and four brothers started a local trucking business using a surplus army truck. In time, A-P-A Transport Co. would become the fourth-largest freight trucking company in the United States.
Imperatore was at his heart an entrepreneur. He owned coal mines, pondered the development of an amusement park on the Weehawken waterfront, and plunged into sports ownership with his purchase in 1978 of the Colorado Rockies of the National Hockey League. Imperatore’s plan was to move the Rockies to the new arena being built at the time in the New Jersey Meadowlands. The plan fell apart, however, and by the time the Rockies became the New Jersey Devils, Imperatore had sold the franchise and skated on to other challenges.
In 1981, Imperatore purchased 2.5 miles of Hudson River waterfront, mainly dilapidated piers and rail yards in Weehawken, from the bankrupt Penn Central Railroad for $7.5 million. His hope was to turn it into a residential community with views of Manhattan, but to make it attractive he would also need to provide transportation to the Big Apple. To solve that problem, he started the NY Waterway ferry service in 1986.
Initially, NY Waterway had few riders, but in time its popularity grew to the point where Imperatore’s so-called “folly” operated 36 ferries and 80 buses, carrying 32,000 passengers a day. As for the residential development, Imperatore left that to others. By the time of his death, the waterfront property Imperatore once owned–including the condominiums, townhomes, shops and restaurants there–was valued at more than $1 billion, the New York Times reported.
The ferry service itself has had many proud moments. In 2001, in the hours after the attack on the World Trade Center, NY Waterway ferries carried thousands of stranded citizens away from the disaster area. In 2009, Imperatore’s ferries came to the rescue when a US Airways jet landed in the Hudson River with 155 people aboard.
But Imperatore was perhaps proudest of the hardworking people he employed. At his induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame, he declared, “We built not only companies…but we built communities…so that our people would feel a part [of what we built].”
Among numerous other accolades, Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken named the Arthur E. Imperatore School of Sciences and Arts in his honor.