Omero C. Catan, Known As “Mr. First” Waits To Be First Through The New Lincoln Tunnel
When he was 13-years-old in 1928, Omero C. Catan heard a story from a family friend who was one of the first people to cross the Brooklyn Bridge when it opened in 1883. It was then that Omero decided that being first would be something fun to do as a hobby.
Soon after Catan went down to Lakehurst, NJ from his home in Greenwich, CT to become the first American to tour the famous airship, Graf Zeppelin.
The Miami New Times 1995 profile of Omero and his brother Michael reported, “after that initial success, there was no stopping him.”
Catan paid the first toll on the George Washington Bridge linking New York and New Jersey (October 25, 1931). He was the first to buy a token on the Eighth Avenue subway (September 10, 1932). He was the first paying customer to skate on the Rockefeller Plaza ice rink (December 25, 1936). After he proposed marriage to stenographer Jeanne Tobolka, he was to receive the first wedding license of 1939. He was the first to put a coin in a New York City parking meter (Sept. 19, 1951). He was the first to drive over the Tappan Zee Bridge (December 15, 1955).
In all Catan was “first” 537 times, acquiring the sobriquet “Mr. First”.
At 4 a.m. on December 22, 1937 the lights turned green and Omero Catan and George Horn started driving through the new Lincoln Tunnel from opposite sides.
According to the New York Times, Catan whose car had been parked in the Weehawken Plaza since 10 p.m. on Monday, December 20, arrived at the Manhattan end at about the same time as George Horn, whose coupe had been parked in the Manhattan Plaza since 9 p.m. on Monday, reached the New Jersey portal. Since the tolls are collected at the Weehawken end, Catan a veteran of several other “first” trips, through tunnels, over bridges, and on subways received a technical decision from reporters and others present when the tunnel went into service. Actually neither car was first to go through as Port Authority cars with engineers and dignitaries preceded the public, but they paid no tolls.
The Lincoln Tunnel was dedicated December 21, 1937, the day before it was officially opened to traffic. New York Governor Herbert H. Lehman and New Jersey Governor Harold G. Hoffman presided over the ceremonies with speeches extolling the virtues of the new tunnel.
Lehman declared that the undertaking “was proof of the ability of a public agency (The Port Authority) to plan and execute a great improvement with the same efficiency as a private industry and with a selfless devotion to the public good which reflects our highest ideal of government.”
The 50¢ toll rate for passenger cars was the same at the tunnel as it was for the George Washington Bridge and the Holland Tunnel.
The tunnel put nearly $7 million into the pockets of the workers who built the tunnel. The average hourly wage was $1.09 per hour.
The second (north) tube was to be completed by 1941, but was delayed due to World War II, and was formally opened on February 1, 1945. At the time Omero Catan was serving overseas in the military. In Omero’s place, his brother Michael waited four days in harsh conditions to be the first to drive through the new tube.
The estimated cost of the completed tunnel in 1937 was $74,800,00. By 1945 the cost had risen to $80 million.
“Mr. First” Omer0 C. Catan, died In Fort Lauderdale, FL at the age of 82 on October 19, 1996.