After terrorists crashed two planes into the Twin Towers, Arthur E. Imperatore Sr.’s NY Waterway ferries hustled 150,000 people out of New York.
When a commuter jet made an emergency landing on the Hudson River, Imperatore’s ferries rushed to the scene, helping to rescue everyone on board.
Imperatore, the “visionary entrepreneur” who is credited with inventing the modern commuter ferry system, died Wednesday at 95 following a life of massive – and at times fascinating – achievement.
"Arthur E. Imperatore, Sr., [f]ounder & [p]resident of NY Waterway leaves us, but his memory will last forever in our hearts,” his staff posted on social media. “Legends never die. Thanks for everything Maestro.”
Imperatore was more than a captain of New York and New Jersey industry. He was, as in the Latin translation of his name, a commander.
Impetatore, who served in the Army Air Corps during World War II, founded NY Waterway, which went on to become the largest privately owned and operated commuter ferry service in the nation.
The ninth of 10 children born to Italian immigrants Eugene Imperatore and his wife, Teresa (née Sorrentino) on July 8, 1925, Arthur Imperatore grew up in a two-bedroom apartment above his family’s West New York grocery store.
He delivered groceries in grade school, worked as a shoeshine boy and Western Union messenger -- and at only 10 years old boldly declared that he would someday be a millionaire and lift his loved ones from their less-than-modest existence.
The only member of his family to finish high school, Imperatore was a navigator on B-24 Liberators and B-29 Superfortress bombers during the Second World War.
He and his brothers Eugene, Arnold, Harold and George later used a surplus U.S. Army truck to create the A-P-A Transport Corp.
APA, which eventually became the fourth largest interstate freight trucking company in the nation, was widely known for how it treated its employees.
The company was one of the first to provide a health club, with a basketball court and pool, for its workers. Employees all got gifts during the annual Christmas party at Schuetzen Park in North Bergen at the Union City border.
At one of its milestone anniversaries, the company gave the employees tickets to a weekend cruise.
A combination of 9/11 and a trucker's strike forced APA to shut down in 2002 after 55 years.
By that time, Imperatore had a lot more going on.
He’d purchased the NHL’s Colorado Rockies -- which eventually became the New Jersey Devils – with the intention of moving it to the Garden State once the arena in the Meadowlands was completed. Frustrated by delays in completing the move, however, he sold the team in 1983.
The seeds of his greatest success came that same year, when Imperatore paid $7.5 million to the bankrupt Penn Central railroad for a 2½-mile, 350-acre stretch of waterfront in Weehawken and West New York.
Three years later, in 1986, NY Waterway ferried 26 passengers on its first day of service between Weehawken and to Pier 78 in Manhattan.
Critics derisively called it “Arthur’s Folly.” But the joke was on them.
What followed wasn’t only an unprecedented bus-to-ferry network that got hundreds of millions of commuters back and forth across the Hudson, saving time, money and effort.
Imperatore’s ferry also was the spark that spurred what had been years of stalled development efforts of barren railroad and industrial land littered with rotted piers along the Hudson waterfront, from Fort Lee down to Jersey City.
Part of that development was what is now Port Imperial, a sparkling ferry complex with thousands of residential units and a sprawling network of shops – a mini-community of sorts.
No less importantly, NY Waterway has saved countless lives.
When a Nor’easter flooded PATH tubes under the river in 1990, Imperatore’s ferries shuttled commuters between the World Financial Ferry Terminal in lower Manhattan and the Hoboken Rail/Ferry Terminal.
When the first World Trade Center bombing stopped PATH service in 1993, the ferry once again provided the necessary transportation link.
For weeks after 9/11, NY Waterway ferries were the only connection between New Jersey and lower Manhattan, carrying more than 60,000 passenger a day – and making it possible for New York City’s financial markets to reopen less than a week later.
It once again was the only transit link between Manhattan and New Jersey during the 2003 blackout, carrying 160,000 passengers a day.
In their most famed achievement, a squadron of Imperatore ferries rescued nearly everyone on board after Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger safely landed a disabled U.S. Air Flight 1549 in the “Miracle on the Hudson” in 2009.
NY Waterway ferry crews have rescued more than 100 people from the Hudson River in other incidents, as well.
Tens of thousands of passengers a day continue to use NY Waterway ferries between New Jersey and Manhattan, between Rockland and Westchester counties and between Orange and Dutchess counties.
Inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2017, Imperatore had been living in a Fort Lee home built by mob boss Albert Anastasia and later owned by comedian Buddy Hackett.
A winner of the prestigious Horatio Alger Award, he was an American history buff and arts patron who loved opera and Cole Porter.
The Arthur E. Imperatore School of Sciences and Arts of Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey, is named in his honor.
Imperatore is survived by his wife, Dr. Mei-Ling Yee-Imperatore; his son, Arthur E. Imperatore, Jr.; his daughter, India Imperatore; his stepson and daughter-in-law, Armand Pohan and Nancy O. Rieger; his stepchildren George (Elizabeth) Carr, Alexander (Renée) Carr, and Arielle Moylen; eight grandchildren and two stepgrandchildren.
A memorial service will eventually be scheduled based on COVID-19 pandemic developments.
In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations in his name be made to the foundations of Imperatore’s two closest physicians, Dr. Valentin Fuster and Dr. David Adams, who, they said, “worked tirelessly to provide him with quality years of life.”
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