The History of NYC Subway


Precursors to the Underground Subway System

Versions of a public transportation system have been in use since 1827, when Abraham Brower created New York City's first public transportation route, a stagecoach called "Accommodation" that ran from the Battery to Bleecker Street along Broadway. By 1831, Brower had also added 2 more stagecoaches to his fleet, the Sociable and Omnibus. By The next year, John Mason, a wealthy banker, organized the New York and Harlem Railroad, a railway that utilized horse-drawn cars on metal wheels and track. Toward the end of the 19th century,the discovery of electricity led to the development of electric trolley cars. Train-based systems began with the city's first regular elevated railway service, which began running on February 14, 1870. The El ran along Greenwich Street and Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, and connected Dey and 29th Streets. It had wooden cars powered by steam. While above ground systems were becoming more and more common in the late 19th century, the conditions were far from ideal. The systems were extremely noisy & the structures took up space and blocked sunlight, both precious within a city.

First Underground Systems

An inventor and journalist named Alfred E. Beach developed an idea that trains could be pushed underground by pneumatic pressure, also known as a giant fan. He created a model of his idea and unveiled it at the American Institute Fair in Manhattan in 1867. However, political machines stopped his plans, thanks to bribes from horse carriage drivers. However, in 1870, Beach began excavating for a subway line, under the guise of a pneumatic mail delivery system and opened his system later that year. Beach's underground system was 312 feet long, operated with a 22 seat car and was a hit with the public. However during the financial crises of 1873, it was shut down and closed.Begining in 1900, construction on the first official system in NYC began.

The Interborough Rapid Transit Company and other lines

After 4 years and with the help of over 10,000 workers, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) opened in Manhattan on October 27, 1904.The IRT operated on a subway line that consisted of 28 stations from City Hall to 145th Street and Broadway. It ran from the Brooklyn Bridge to 145th and Broadway. The project was extremely expensive, costing the city approximately $40 million. The line offered steel cars, all decorated with modern art and poetry. Over the next 5 years, the IRT exanded to other boroughs, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens in 1905, 1908, & 1915, respectively. Just after the turn of the century, The Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Company (BMT) took control over service between Brooklyn and Manhattan. in 1920, The Independent Subway (IND) was created by New york City to operate as an independent system. IND lines mostly ran along Eighth and Sixth avenues in Manhattan, however they later expanded to sections of Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn. In 1940, the city formely took control of the BMT & IRT Companies. In doing so, they created the Mass Transit Authority.

The Mass Transit Authority

The modern system came to be on June 15, 1953, when the New York State Legislature created the New York City Transit Authority (now MTA New York City Transit) as a separate public corporation to manage and operate all city-owned bus, trolley, and subway routes. They assumed control over all subway lines operating within the city, two above ground railroad lines, The Metro-North Railroad and the Long Island Railroad, and the public bus system. On July 25, 1953 the MTA began using tokens to pay for fares.

For a timeline of the history of New York City's Subway System, visit this website.