Museums Planes Trains and Automobiles Podcasts

A History of the New York City Subway — from A to Z (and 1 through 9)

The New York City subway system turns 120 years old later this year so we thought we’d honor the world’s longest subway system with a supersized overview history — from the first renegade ride in 1904 to the belated (but sorely welcomed) opening of one portion of the Second Avenue Subway in 2017.

New Yorkers like Alfred Ely Beach had envisioned a subway system for the city as early as the 1870s. Yet years of political delay and a lack of funding ensured that dreams of an underground transit would languish.

It wasn’t until the mid 1890s that the city got on track with the help of August Belmont and the newly formed Interborough Rapid Transit.

Inside the brand new City Hall station 1904 (Library of Congress)

We’ll tell you about the construction of the first line, traveling miles underground through Manhattan and into the Bronx. How did the city cope with this massive project? And what unfortunate accident nearly ripped apart a city block mere feet from Grand Central Station?

You’ll also find out how something as innocuous sounding as the ‘Dual Contracts’ actually became one of the most important events in the city’s history, bringing the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company into the mix and creating new underground passages into Brooklyn, the Bronx and (at long last!) Queens.

One of New York’s Budapest-inspired kiosks, pictured here 1917

Then we’ll talk about the city’s IND line, which completes our modern track lines and gives the subway its modern sheen.

Through it all, the New York City subway system is a masterwork of engineering and construction. In particular, after listening to this show, you won’t look at the Herald Square subway station the same way again.

Today’s episode is a remastered and reedited edition of two 2011 Bowery Boys podcasts, featuring newly recorded material to take the story to the present day.

LISTEN NOW: History of the New York City Subway

Inside City Hall station, 1906 (NYPL)
A 1906 postcard showing — a subway tunnel. Demonstrates what a novel view this was in 1906. (NYPL)
The subway in 1909 (NYPL)
The Eighth Avenue line, 1937 (NYPL)

Images from Greg’s recent visit to the New York Transit Museum. Visit the Downtown Brooklyn museum or the gallery in Grand Central.


An interview with The Race Underground author Doug Most

The Dual Contracts: The New York City subway system gets a serious upgrade 

The early battle against ‘disfiguring’ advertisements in the subway

The Subway Tavern: ‘greasy’ church-operated bar alternative

A Brief History of Subway Cinema

The Horror Underground: New York’s first subway disaster — during rush hour, one hundred years ago today


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *