How The New York City Subway Came To Be


The City Hall station of the I.R.T. Lexington Avenue Line, sometime between 1900 and 1904, part of the first underground line of the subway that opened on October 27, 1904. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

On October 27, 1904, the New York City Subway opened its doors to allow citizens of the Big Apple to make their way across the city that never sleeps at any time, day or night. The New York City subway system may not be the oldest in the world or even in the United States (those titles belong to London and Boston, respectively), but since its inception, it's grown to be the largest subway system in the country.

The New York City Subway

As New York City expanded in the late 19th century, Mayor Abram Hewitt (the "father of the subway") recognized that people who lived outside Manhattan needed a new method of transportation into the city center that wouldn't clog the streets. He was only in office for one year, between 1887 and 1888, but he proposed an underground rapid transit system, resulting in the 1891 New York Rapid Transit Act, which guaranteed any city in the state with more than 1 million inhabitants the cash and resources to build rapid transit.

Once the money was available from the state, entrepreneurs started moving quickly. John B. McDonald won a $35 million contract for the Rapid Transit Construction Company, which would later be known as the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, giving them a 50-year operating lease. Although some of them feared tunnel collapses and poor air quality, the city went all-in on sending its inhabitants underground.