It is an integral part of any New Yorker’s life – connecting the bright lights of Manhattan to communities throughout the five boroughs.
Now photographs from the beginning of the last century show how the New York City subway clambered to its feet to become the service millions of commuters take for granted today.
The earliest black-and-white image,
taken in October 1904, shows officials inside a car during the opening of the
number six line at City Hall. With top
hats, suit tails and well-groomed facial hair, the men cram into a cart, becoming the first to witness a system that would transform the city.
Grand opening: Officials sit in a car inside a tunnel during the
opening ceremony for the first Manhattan subway line – the number 6 – at the City Hall station, October 1904
This first line extended from City Hall to the Bronx, with a later extension adding tracks to Atlantic Avenue and the in Brooklyn.
The photographs show how the system expanded thereafter, with the creation of new lines and swanky carriage interiors used by an eclectic mix of passengers.
After 1913, the rapid transit system began to rapidly snake through the boroughs, thanks to contracts signed between the
Interborough Rapid Transit Subway and the City. The vast majority of the present-day
subway system was either built or improved under these contracts, which
added fresh tracks and connections to new lines.
All stations of the Eighth Avenue
Line, from 207th Street in Washington Heights to Hudson Terminal – now
the World Trade Center – opened one minute after midnight on September
War-time travel: A subway entrance in 1918. One poster reads ‘American Liberty Is Ours; Let Us Defend It! Buy Liberty Bonds’ in English, Hebrew, German and Magyar
All aboard! The Broadway Local train stops at a
station as two NYPD officers and a uniformed
train conductor stand with commuters on the platform
Travelling in style: An interior of a subway car shows how
passengers travelled in 1935, including upholstered seats and
advertising posters for dog food and medicine
The system had another boost when the
City, fearing private
companies were benefiting from taxpayers, created the Independent City-Owned Subway. It acquired the BMT and IRT in
1940, and adopted the name the IND.
In 1953, the New York City Transit Authority took over the system, and lines continued to develop – although scores were also demolished – throughout the second half of the century. In the 1960s, more than $1 trillion was spent to create three tunnels along the Second Avenue and 63rd Street Lines.
In some of the photographs, stored in the New York Daily News archive, commuters will notice how the service appears to have changed very little.
One photo, dated 1989, shows John F.
Kennedy Jr. as he attempts to squeeze into a packed carriage – – an
everyday experience for millions of today’s passengers – on his first day as Manhattan’s assistant district attorney.
Light at the end of the tunnel: In 1965, railway staff shine torches for passengers making their way along a tunnel ledge after trains had stopped during a power failure
On its feet: In 1931, construction workers are pictured in a compression chamber under the East River (left). In a more familiar scene, John F. Kennedy Jr. squeezes into a packed carriage on his first day of work as assistant district attorney for Manhattan in 1989 (right)
Destroyed: A picture from 1915 shows the aftermath of when a New York Subway station caved-in, along with a demolished trolley
Yet others depict a patchy service that would outrage today’s travellers, such as one image, which shows a line of passengers clinging to the inside of a tunnel. Following a power outage in the city, the men and women, decked in their 1960s fashions, are led to an exit by torch-brandishing officials.
And while graffiti sullies one car in a picture from 1973, plush upholstered seats and spotless floors in a 1935 image are nowhere to be seen in today’s carriages.
The most recent image, taken in 1981, is the most akin to scenes on today’s transit system. A line of men and women sit squashed along a carriage bench – close enough that they are touching yet not muttering a word.
In today’s carriages, however, their cassette walkmans have been replaced by white headphones, iPads and Kindles.
Today, more than five million people use the subway on any given weekday, with around three million travelling on a Saturday or Sunday. The system has 468 stations – the largest number of public transit subway stations of any system in the world.
Soul train: Four subway riders are pictured listening to their walkmans in March 1981 in a scene not dissimilar from ones witnessed today
Under the bridge: In a picture taken in 1973, graffiti covers the platform and subway at the 145th Street station
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More like a pictorial history of the breakdown of society.
I loved visiting NYC. The subway is a man made wonder. I felt very comfortable being alone in the bustling city.. The photo of the squished passengers all wearing headphones though outdated, could come from todays habits. I found New Yorkers friendly and helpful.
The one with the power outage is my favorite — love the expression on that woman’s face!
That picture during the power cut is amazing, I would have felt a little ‘freaked out’ to say the least, it seems an awfully thin ledge.
Love the old pictures that you have from time to time–keep them coming–look forward to them each and every time
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