Monday, December 24, 2012

New York City Subway system: a trove of history and an engineering marvel

Mosaic eagle by Heins&Lafargel/
John H. Parry Co.
By Jane Feehan
For transit directions, visit:

The Big Apple's subway system, the best way to get around in the city, continues to fascinate me.

Today’s subway was not the first mass transit in New York. It was attempted a few times during the 19th century by private companies. Horse drawn carriages were pulled along tracks, then electricity-driven trolleys prevailed. Elevated tracks ruled for a time, carrying locomotives with commuters through a major route across the city. The first subway was created by Alfred E. Beach in 1870. It ran under lower Broadway for three years and was operated by pneumatic pressure and a giant fan. 
Subway route today

Today’s official system was launched by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRTC) October 27, 1904. A 9.1-mile route included 28 station stops from City Hall to 145th Street and Broadway.  The numbered lines are part of the original system; the lettered routes were added later. The New York City subway system is the nation’s oldest and the world’s largest (by track mileage). It was the first subway to be mechanically ventilated. Twenty three lines move millions of people through the city each day. A New Yorker familiar with subway stats and history told me one of the lines (I will not mention for security reasons) is the world’s most traveled subway route.

Some of the original tiles, along with several beautiful  ceramic mosaic eagles, can be seen on some of the older lines. The photos here were taken at the 33rd Street station along the 6 line. Be careful taking photos, it’s not allowed – something I found out afterward. For more history – much more – visit one of the sites below.


Tags: NYC subway, NYC subway history, mass transit history New York, world’s largest subway system, film industry researcher.

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