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History of the New York City Subway System: Sources

A research guide for individuals wanting to learn about the world's first subway system

Here is a list of the resources we used for this project.

And don't forget to check out this video on how to use the NYPL's digital database to gain access to thousands of historical photographs. You can access the images of you like and download them in the image size of your choice. 

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  • Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. (1897).  Handy map of Brooklyn showing lines of Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/c6d9c23e-37d0-7a21-e040-e00a180612a8

This is a map from the nineteenth century of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, an early predecessor of the MTA. This image is found in the New York Digital Collections.

 

  • The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1906). City Hall Subway Station, New York. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e2-8ce5-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

This photograph is a postcard from 1906 of the City Hall Subway Station, found on the New York Digital Collections, searchable by the public. 

Sources for Early History and People

This page on the American Society of Civil Engineers website that briefly goes over the first subway and the contributions made by engineer Alfred Ely Beach.

This article is from a Harpers Bazaar issue in 1904. It quickly profiles some of the chief figures involved with the first subway, including Alexander Orr, John B. McDonald, and August Belmont.

This book, published in 1904 by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company, is a primary source document written to celebrate the opening of the subway in 1904. It provides a comprehensive overview of bumpy path to the subway--officially starting in 1904, but with bits and pieces beginning prior to that--and the various actors involved.

  • Cudahy, B. (2003). August Belmont and His Subway. In A Century of Subways: Celebrating 100 Years of New York's Underground Railways (pp. 1-71). New York: Fordham University. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x0btt.5

This book gives a broad historic overview of the entire century-long span of the New York City Subway, from 1904 to 2003 (the year the book was published). The introduction and first chapter, “August Belmont and His Subway,” give an in-depth look at August Belmont, chief financier of the IRT subway and head of Interborough Rapid Transit Company for several years.

This article details Alfred Ely Beach's first push for a pneumatic (steam-powered) subway in 1870, which was killed by pushback from landowners and a law introduced to Governor John Hoffman in 1873, as well as the financial panic known as the Long Depression. 

This article specifically documents businessman William Steinway’s involvement in the first subway line and his push for electric transportation.

  • The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. (1905). August Belmont, banker, American representative of the Rothschilds, Democratic politician, and master of the street-car situation in New York City [from McClure's Magazine, 1905]. Retrieved from https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47dc-8e5e-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

A photo of August Belmont, president of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company.

This website not only provides information on sightseeing tours of New York City, it gives both a succinct overview and timeline of the history of the first subway and the people involved in its development.

A photo of William Steinway, businessman and advocate for the use of electricity in the first subway in 1891. 

This original New York Times article provided on-the-ground reporting from the opening day of the IRT Subway on October 27, 1904. It covers Mayor McClellan's driving of the train and estimates the number of riders at each station. 

  • Porter, E. S., Gilroy, W. J., Thomas A. Edison, I. & Paper Print Collection. (1904) Opening ceremonies, New York subway. United States: Edison Manufacturing Co. [Video] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2016600205/

An original video of the opening ceremonies of the IRT Subway on October 27, 1904, led by Mayor George McClellan. 

 

Sources for The First Trains

For more information on early modes of transportation in NYC, the Bowery Boys have a great article to describe this topic. They also have a podcast attached to it.           

This is a great resource to find information on the early history of New York City

Quick and easy points on the Subway can be accessed through this Thrillist page.

Another great page from the Greenwhich Village Society for Historic Preservation - sources can be found on their site for early history of New York City.

This website is ran by a subway enthusiast and the information from this website is very comprehensive. Generally the information is up to date and can link to additional sources.

  • Santora, M. (2013, August 2013). When the New York City Subway Ran Without Rails. New York Times .

New York Times article that gives a great overview on the subway's early history.

A cable car enthusiast compiles all information on this form of transportation.

This source describes the science behind all the components of the subway, which is helpful because it does not use too much technical terms that may confuse the reader.

This article followed a previous event the MTA put together in the winter of 2004 to introduce New Yorkers to the old school trains that were in service during the subway’s early history. 

Sources for Train Notable Maps

Images:

This is an image of the 1904 Manhattan and Bronx train lines. 

This is an image of the 1904 Brooklyn train line. 

This is an image of all the 1904 trains. 

This is an image of the 1939 IND train line. 

This is an image of the 1948 train lines. 

This is an image of the 1966 train lines.

This is an image of the 1968 train lines. 

This is an image of the 1972 train lines. 

This is an image of the 1888 survey map. 

This is an image of the current (2019) MTA map. 

Facts:

This article gave information on how the fare of the subway had increased throughout the years. It had gone from five cents a ride to what it currently is now which is $2.75 a ride. This also talked about the implementation of the Metro Unlimited Card and how people could now just buy a card and ride the train as many times as they wanted in a month for a set price instead of buying their ticket before each ride.  

This article went more in-depth about the snowstorm and how New York wasn’t the only city to suffer from it. Most of the East Coast, including Connecticut and New Hampshire, were at a standstill during this storm. This site was used as a fact checker for the David Pirmann article.

The MTA website was used to verify dates and information that had been previously discovered in the past sites. This site supplied information on when air conditioning got put into train cars. Also, this site allowed me to screenshot images of the current map of the MTA in order to show how much the routes and maps have changed throughout time. 

This is an interactive map of the current MTA train system. 

This was the site where I first learned about the 1888 storm that hit New York and most of the East Coast in 1888. Also, this site is where I learned that during this storm, New York decided that they needed to create a train that ran below the ground to avoid having the city come to a stand still in case another storm like the one in 1888 happened again.

This is a great resource to finding sources on what happened on the first day that the subway officially opened. On this page, there are lists of different activities that happened on the day the subway opened, including topics like: the finished plans, train schedule, ticket sales, to-do list and ceremony, and many others. Most of the pages that are included on this are articles that were published in the New York Times in 1904.

This site was used to get specific information about the cars of the IRT had changed in 1948 to R-12s. These cars were different from the cars that had been previously used. Also, this site provided information on how the R-12s and R-10s had many issues with them so they were quickly fixed and exchanged for R-14s. 

This source was used to get specific information on how the Independent Fleet Trains (IND) were different than the IRT and BMT trains. It also mentioned how these trains could only travel to certain stations because the size of the cars.

This source gave specific information on the IRT, stating what it was and why it was important to the train system.

This source supplied information on the 1972 map and how it was not viewed kindly by the community. It mentioned all the complaints that the community had about it. It also supplied who the designer of this map and how he cared less about accuracy and more about clarity.

 

Sources for Significant Changes

This webpage is a summary of information broadcast on The Bowery Boys podcast about early twentieth century contracts between municipalities and private companies over New York transportation.

This is an online court case document provided by the ADA, detailing the decision by the US District Court to have the MTA make their stations accessible, no matter the cost. 

This article is a historical recount on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the 1980 Transit Strike.       

This primary source is a column for an article from 1940 describing the effects of the consolidation of different private companies and the transition of operation to the city of New York.

This is an article for an online newsletter called CityLab which focuses on design, transportation environment, equity, and life in urban spaces looking at the difficulties in funding and expanding New York transit systems.

This is an article about the recent improvement in daily commutation in the M.T.A. since the 2017 crisis.

    This is a blog post from a transit activist living in New York City looking at the history of the subway with maps.

 

This is an article about the changing rate of the subway fare and how fare doubled after decades of remaining the same in the late 1940s to controversy.

This is a digitized primary source document from the 1960s detailing that day’s transit strike effects on the city.

This is a New York Magazine editorial pointing out the lack of information given by the MTA about the long-awaited Second Avenue Line.

This is a column accessed from the New York Times TimesMachine database about the hesitancy of the city to increase fare at all.

This is an article from Politico discussing recent legal action against the MTA and the necessity of ADA compliance in a Bronx station.

This online radio summary from a broadcast about the 1966 Transit Strike and its union leader, Mike Quill.

This is a written and video analysis detailing the daily problems that occurred during the 2017 subway crisis.

This website is an online planning tool for the public to use the subway, with preset destinations and choices for trip preferences such as type of vehicle, number of transfers, and accessibility. This tool is explored in our instructional video under "Significant Changes Over Time." 

This website is a searchable tool for checking on the status of different elevators and escalators to help update MTA passengers about the accessibility of different subway stations. This tool is explored briefly in our instructional video under "Significant Changes Over Time."

This is an open source photo of Governor Cuomo and MTA Chairman and CEO Prendergast after the first ride of the Second Avenue Subway on January 1, 2017. It was found via Creative Commons. 

 This is a government document from the New York City DOT analyzing the impact of the 2005 transit strike.

This is a timeline provided by the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s webpage.

This is a list the current exhibits on display at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn.

This is a collection of photos, maps, and documents dedicated to the history of the New York City Subway system that has been online since 1995.

This article is a historical look into an unfinished tunnel near Brooklyn and how the project was never completed despite planning from the beginning of the twentieth century.

This is an online, digitized short segment from a broadcast of All Things Considered on NPR discussing the 1966 Transit Strike.

This is an article detailing the timeline of completion of the Second Avenue Subway in Manhattan.

This is a photo of a mug and a description of how it relates to the 2005 transit strike taken from a Flickr account that falls under Creative Commons licensing