Going Underground: The History of the New York Subway System

By | June 7, 2019

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The New York City subway system, which opened in 1904 and is the world's largest rapid transit system serving over 5.7 million daily riders on weekdays. Source: (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New York City’s subway system is such an integral part of the city that it is hard to image the Big Apple without it. The city would have a much different look if the underground transit system had never been built and elevated railcars were used instead, as was originally planned. It took a debilitating natural disaster to prove to the people of New York that a subway system was a viable option. Let’s go underground to look at the conception and construction of the New York subway. 

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Beach Pneumatic Transit. Source: (nycsubway.org)

The Subway Prototype

New York City was growing fast in the 1800s and it became clear that public transportation was needed to alleviate the congestion on the city streets. Several elevated rail car tracks were built to take people above the streets, but Alfred Ely Beach had a different idea. He wanted to take people underground and out of sight. In 1870, he opened his Beach Pneumatic Transit, a 312-foot long tunnel under Broadway. Although he planned to extend the tunnel, his efforts were stopped for financial reasons.