Sandhog is the slang term given to urban miners, construction workers who work underground on a variety of excavation projects in New York City,[1] and later other cities.[2] Generally these projects involve tunneling, caisson excavation, road building, or some other type of underground construction or mining projects. The miners work with a variety of equipment from tunnel boring machines to explosives to remove material for the project they are building. The term is an American colloquialism.

Starting with their first job in 1872, the Brooklyn Bridge, the "hogs" have built a large part of the New York City infrastructure including the subway tunnels and sewers, Water Tunnels No. 1 and No. 2 as well as the currently under construction Water Tunnel No. 3, the Lincoln, Holland, Queens-Midtown, and Brooklyn-Battery tunnels. In addition, they worked on the foundations for most of the bridges and many of the skyscrapers in the city. Many of these workers are Irish or Irish American and West Indian.

Sandhogging is often a tradition and is passed down through generations of families; since mining projects span decades, it is not uncommon for multi-generations of families to work together on the same job.[3]

Appearances in media

  • In the October 1997 issue of Esquire magazine, a series of photographs by David Allee, with a text accompaniment by Thomas Kelly, document the life and work of sandhogs. In 2006 at Grand Central Terminal in New York City there was a large-scale photo and video installation about the sandhogs, "The Sandhog Project", created by artist Gina LeVay.
  • Thomas Kelly's 1997 novel about sandhogs, Payback, was reissued in 2008 as Sandhogs (ISBN 978-1593762360) by Soft Skull Press.[4]
  • David Grann's 2003 article about sandhogs, City of Water, appeared in the September 1 issue of The New Yorker[5] and was republished in his collection The Devil and Sherlock Holmes. It has been optioned for a movie.
  • On September 7, 2008, The History Channel began "Sandhogs" a series on the sandhogs.[6]
  • The CSI: NY episode "A Man a Mile" deals with the death of a sandhog during construction of Water Tunnel No. 3.
  • The Cold Case episode "Sandhogs" (Season 4, Episode 3) deals with the death of a Sandhog in 1948.
  • A Public Broadcasting System (PBS) sponsored documentary show American Experience 2014 episode "The Rise and Fall of Penn Station" details the work done by the sandhogs in the creation of the rail tunnels connecting New York and New Jersey.[7]
  • The podcast 99% Invisible released an episode on sandhogs in March 2015.[8]
  • Chuck Wendig's urban fantasy novel, The Blue Blazes (ISBN 9780857663351). The protagonist is a former sandhog, and one of the central elements of the plot is Water Tunnel No. 3, a sandhog construction project.
  • The final episode of season 4 of The Strain refers to sandhogs as the builders of Water Tunnel No. 3, where the scenes were filmed.
  • Scorpion Season 3 Episode 14[9], where Walter refers to the workers as mole rats, as he felt the sandhogs nickname 'is illogical', and Toby corrects him to sandhogs.[10]




  1. "The Men Who Make New York Work". NYC Sandhogs Local 147. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
  2. "A History of BART".
  3. Fisher, Ian (November 28, 1993). "Tunneling Into a World of Danger; Fatal Accident Puts Spotlight on Sandhogs' Perilous Job". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
  4. "". Archived from the original on 2011-01-06.
  5. "City of Water" (abstract), The New Yorker, September 1, 2003.
  6. "Sandhogs - 800 feet below NYC streets". A&E Television Networks. Archived from the original on February 24, 2009. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
  7. Penn Station The American Experience
  8. 99% Invisible Episode 158: Sandhogs
  9. IMDB: Scorpion Season 3 Episode 14 (Jan 2017)
  10. Scorpion s03e14 Episode Script

Further reading

  • Armagnac, Alden P. (September 1947). "Sandhogs'". Popular Science.
  • Chase, Borden (1941). Sandhog; the way of life of the tunnel builders. Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson and Co. OCLC 1525997.
  • Delaney, Paul E. (1983). Sandhogs : a history of the tunnel workers of New York. OCLC 11517630.
  • LeVay, Gina (2009). Sandhogs. Brooklyn, NY: PowerHouse Books. ISBN 978-1576875230.
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