On This Day

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Detroit Publishing Co./Library of Congress
The City Hall subway station pictured circa 1904.

On This Day: New York’s First Subway System Opens

October 27, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Oct. 27, 1904, the first rapid transit subway, the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT), opened in New York City.

The First NYC Subway

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The first IRT ran about nine miles and had 28 stations. It ran from City Hall up to Grand Central Station, then west across to Times Square, then up the West Side to 145th Street. The New York Times described the excitement in the city for the subway’s opening: “For the first time in his life Father Knickerbocker went underground yesterday; went underground, he and his children, to the number of 150,000, amid the tooting of whistles and the firing of salutes, for a first ride in a subway which for years had been scoffed at as an impossibility.”

The first underground railway system was the Metropolitan Railway, introduced in London in 1863. The trains ran on steam, which caused problems in the tunnels, but the system proved popular. A competing London metro system introduced electric trains in 1890, which made underground transit more practical.

The first subway in the U.S. was opened in 1897 in Boston, but New York would become the American city most synonymous with the subway. The IRT and the rival Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) greatly increased the number of subway lines after receiving city contracts in 1913, building most of the modern subway.

The city, which formed the Independent Subway System (IND) in 1932, took over the IRT and its remaining private competitor Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit in 1940, placing the entire subway system under its control. New York subway riders can still see signs with the old subway system names.

Today, the New York City Subway system has 21 lines (plus three shuttles) running more than 200 miles between 468 stations (which is nearly as many stations as there are in the rest of the U.S. combined).
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