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History of the New York City Subway System: Notable Train Maps

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

1888 Map

Image of the 1888 Survey Map: Brooklyn Survey Map 1888. New York, New York. Department of Public Works.

In 1888 there was a terrible snowstorm that hit the east coast called “The Great White Hurricane.” This storm went “down in history as one of the worst natural disasters to befall a major city”  (Pirmann). This snowstorm was so grand that it put the city and most of the east coast at a standstill. In the conditions, no one could drive or get anywhere in the city. It is said that this event is what pushed New York into adopting subways. After this storm, it was determined that the construction of a subway would begin in 1900. 

To read more articles about this storm visit and

1966 Map

This is the year that air conditioning on trains came into discussion. This was not successfully done until 1967 but this process began in 1966.   During this year, there was a twelve day strike that shut down all subway systems and busses.This year would be the year that the price of riding the train would jump from 15 cents to 20 cents. The next price change would not happen until 1970 where it would jump from 20 cents to 30 cents.

Image of the 1966 train lines: 1966 System Map (Small). New York, New York.  New York City Transit Authority.

1972 Map

Image of the 1972 train lines: 1972 System Map. New York, New York.  New York City Transit Authority.

The design of this map was not viewed highly by the community.  The complaints about this map are as listed:

  • The public thought that some of the stations were in the wrong places.
  • They did not like that the water was beige and not blue.
  • They did not like that Central Park looked square and not a long rectangle.
  • The size of Central Park was bigger than the map was showing.
  • Central Park was a “dreary shade of gray" (

The designer of this map Massimo Vignelli was aiming for clarity in the map instead of accuracy.

Along with a change of map came a change of price to ride the subway. The price went up from 30 cents to 35 cents

1904 Map

The IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) also known as the Subway proved that railroads can be built underground a busy city. “The railway was to be owned by the city, and built and operated under legislation unique in the history of municipal governments, complicated, and minute in provisions for the occupation of the city streets, payments of moneys by the city, and city supervision over construction and operation” (Pirmann).   During this time, it cost 5 cents to ride the subway. The price to ride the subway would not change until 1948. 

Want to know what happened during the first day that the subway was open, click here:  

Image of all the 1904 train lines1904, Map and Profile of IRT Subway. New York, New York.

Image of the 1904 Brooklyn train line: 17504. New York, New York. IRT Company. Note: Profile of Brooklyn Extension.

Image of the 1904 Manhattan and Bronx train lines.: 17503. New York, New York. IRT Company. Note: Profile of Rapid Transit Railroad, Manhattan and Bronx Lines.

1948 Map

R-12 trains entered the picture on July 13, 1948. The problem with R-12s was that they “could only be run in 8- or 9-car trains” (Pirmann) The next set of cars that began to surface was R-14s. Other models such as the R-12s and R-10 were having problems, which meant a redesign was in order. The redesign of these cars included the emergency brake valves and “rubber in the heavyweight truck suspension” (Pirmann). The R-14 was made with these redesigns in mind.  

This was the year that the price of the subway jumped from 5 cents to 10 cents. The next time the price would change for the train would be in 1953 where it would jump up to 15 cents.


Image of the 1948 train lines: 1948 System Map (Small). New York, New York. IRT Company.

New York Times: A Modern Look at the MTA Map

Click here for an interactive experience of the current New York City Subway map. Created by Antonio de Luca and Sasha Protis for the New York Times, this visualization with the current subway map gives highlighted points about how the  current map came to be. Along the way, they also describe some setbacks and issues that still remain on the map.

Source: New York Times [Antonio de Luca and Sasha Protis]. (2019) New York City's Subway Map Like You've Never Seen it Before [map]. 12/2/2019. Retrieved from 12/3/2019




1939 Map of IND

The Independent Fleet

The Independent Fleet was going to show off new designs for the train. A list of the new designs were:

  • New Dimensions: “60 ft. 6 in. long, 10 ft. wide and 12 ft. high” (Pirmann)
    • Said to be “9 ft. and 2 in. longer than the Interborough Rapid Transit Company cars and about 7 ft. shorter than the single steel cars now used by the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit company” (Pirmann).
  • More space for passengers to move “through the end doors between cars, while the train is in motion” (Pirmann).
  • More knee room.
  • “Will seat 60 passengers, and when filled with a standing load, each car will have a capacity of 282 passengers” (Pirmann).
  • "The station platforms are 660 ft. in length, enough to accommodate a train of eleven cars” (Pirmann)
  • Hand straps would be added in front of seats and near the doors.

Image of the 1939 IND train line: 1939 IND Route Map (Small). New York, New York. IRT Company.

1968 Map

March 1, 1968 The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) takes over as New York City Transit's parent agency. 

Image of the 1968 train lines: 1968 System Map. New York, New York. New York City Transit Authority. 

2019 Map

Prices began to raise as the years went on. In 1998 the unlimited-ride MetroCard was introduced which cost $63 every 30 days.  In 2007, the price for a single-ride cost $2 and an unlimited-ride MetroCard cost $70. In 2013, a single ride cost $2.35 and the unlimited-ride MetroCard cost $112, with a $1 charge if someone lost their card. As of today, 2019, a single-ride costs $2.75 and the unlimited-ride MetroCard costs $116.50.

Image of the current (2019) MTA map:  Subway Map. MTA. Retrieved: November 17, 2019.

Information compiled by Hannah Bauer