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The First Subway

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The Interborough Rapid Transit Subway, or IRT, was the first subway company in New York City. Even with elevated train lines springing up around the city, the need for an underground rapid transit railroad was obvious as a solution to street congestion and to assist development in outlying areas. On October 27, 1904, the first IRT subway line opened, and the city would never be the same. City Hall station, pictured above, was the showpiece of the new subway. Photo by Fred Guenther.

Major Documents

The New York Subway: Its Construction and Equipment (1904)
The construction of the IRT is well documented in this 1904 commemorative book honoring the opening of New York's first subway. It includes construction diagrams, photographs, and a full accounting of the infrastructure of the IRT subway.

The New York Subway Souvenir (1904)
The opening-day souvenir brochure tells the story of the building of the subway. Includes 38 construction photos, illustrations, and maps, as well as the opening day timetable, facts & figures, and more.

Day One on the IRT: Press Coverage of the Opening of the Subway
The public's reaction to the new line; the coverage in the New York Times of the opening events tries to describe the subway's effects on the people of the city.

Rapid Transit in New York City and in the Other Great Cities (1906)
New York City's Chamber of Commerce published this summary of the work of the Rapid Transit Commission in building the first subway. It also includes an overview of the state of rapid transit in other major cities (22 chapters, 68 illustrations).

Fifty Years of Rapid Transit (1918)
This 1918 book by James Blaine Walker details the politics behind the development of New York's elevated lines, its first subway, and the Dual Contracts.

The Interborough Subway (Historic American Engineering Record)‎
A scholarly look back at the impact of the IRT on New York City, prepared by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Other Documents

Rapid Transit Tunnel Begun - Ground Officially Broken (1900)
The New York Times account of the groundbreaking festivities and the exuberance of the crowd that witnessed the event firsthand.

Progress of the Rapid Transit Subway (News Items) (1900)
A collection of news items pertaining to the subway contracts and commencement of construction, from Engineering News and American Railway Journal, January-June 1900.

Commencement of Work on Rapid Transit Railroad (1900)
The souvenir program that was distributed on "Groundbreaking Day", March 24, 1900.

Progress of the New York Rapid Transit Tunnel (1901)
Three short articles from Scientific American in 1901 about the various construction efforts of the "rapid transit tunnel".

Excellent Progress on the New York Subway (1902)
September, 1902 construction progress update from Scientific American.

Building New York's Subway (1903)
This article from Century Magazine describes the state of subway construction in the fall of 1902. Includes a map and some half-tone engraved illustrations.

Difficult Engineering in the Subway (1902)
Another 1902 article from Century Magazine, this one by the associate editor of Engineering Record, details some difficult construction techniques.

The Tunnel Through New York (1902)‎
Contractor John B. McDonald reports on the status of the subway construction, from a 1902 issue of Munsey's Magazine.

Rapid Transit in New York City (1903)
This paper presented to the Municipal Engineers of New York City by the IRT's deputy chief engineer George S. Rice describes the construction of the subway not long before its opening.

The Subway and Its Stations (1904)
Article from Harper's Weekly about the artistic decoration of the subway stations; illustrated with engravings.

Underground Rapid Transit Routes Proposed by the Metropolitan Interests (1904)
The IRT subway had not even opened yet when this set of new route proposals was floated to the Rapid Transit Commission in February, 1904. The proposals include lines on Lexington and 8th Avenue, and an "H" system similar to that later implemented by the Dual Contracts. Includes map.

The Men Who Made New York's New Subway (1904)
A Harper's Weekly article about the importance of the men who built the "greatest municipal enterprise of modern times."

The New York Subway Instruction Car (1904)
A brief overview of the motorman instruction car and safety training efforts for employees of the new subway, from August 1904, Scientific American.

New York's New Underground World (1904)‎
A summary of the politics and design of the new subway, from October, 1904 issue of The Independent magazine. 7 photos/illustrations.

Inauguration of the Rapid Transit Subway (1904)
A report on the opening of the subway from October 1904, Scientific American.

The Interborough Power Plant
Reports from the New York Times, Scientific American, and Electric Railway Journal describing the construction, outfitting, and capabilities of the subway's power plant.

New York's Subway In Operation (1904)
Outlook Magazine's report describing a ride on the subway.

The New York Rapid Transit Subway, How It Will Affect the City's Life and Business (1904)
An article from the September, 1904, Review which outlines the effects of rapid transit on New York City's housing patterns.

The Subway Deal (1905)
Ray Stannard Baker's overview of the political machinations that lead up to the construction of the subway, from McClure's Magazine, March 1905.

Interborough's New Ten-Car Subway Trains (1911)
A short feature from the April, 1911 Interborough Bulletin detailing operations with new ten-car trains.

Ten Years of the Subway (1914)‎
A 1914 article in the Interborough Bulletin offers a retrospective of the first ten years of subway operation.

Interborough Solicits Complaints--Interborough Publicity (1917-1918)‎
Two Electric Railway Journal reports on a campaign by the IRT to solicit suggestions and complaints from passengers.

IRT Kiosks
The station kiosks were the IRT's street presence for many years before they were removed. This page has some photos and scale diagrams of the station kiosks.

Featherweight Pressure Gate (Turnstile) on the Interborough (1921)
Installation of turnstiles on the Lexington Avenue line reduces crowding at the fare gates. Electric Railway Journal, November 1921.

Interborough Tries Change-Making Machines (1924)

Building the IRT Subway: Some Early Views‎
A few early photographs of IRT construction.

The Interborough Shops and Maintenance Procedures‎

Plan of IRT Subway from the Battery to 96th Street
Rapid Transit Board diagrams of the stations of the IRT subway from the Battery to 96th Street.

IRT Subway Sun and Elevated Express
A collection of IRT Subway Sun and Elevated Express posters.









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