100 Years Underground A Historical Look at the New York City Subway

This year, New York City celebrated the centennial of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA)'s public transit system. From its humble beginnings as a fleet of horse-drawn stagecoaches to its current incarnation as the largest public transportation system in North America, the MTA has gone through a dizzying array of changes during its first century of operation-and hauled an awful lot of people. According to MTA spokesperson Charles Seaton, today the New York City subway system handles an average of 4.6 million commuters on any given weekday, incorporates a fleet of 6,400 cars, and employs 47,000 personnel to handle everything from steering trains to cleaning stations. In recognition of 100 years of service, this month The Cooperator takes a look underground at the New York City subway system.

The "El"

New York's public transit system has had to come a long way since its early days in the late 19th century. Although the subway is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, planning for the system actually goes even farther back, to the mid-1800s. According to Seaton, private companies originally managed the city's rapid transit routes and surface lines. Businessman Abraham Brower established New York City's first public transportation route in 1827, a 12-seat stagecoach called the Accommodation that ran along Broadway from the Battery to Bleecker Street. By 1831, Brower had added the Sociable and Omnibus to his fleet.

The next year, John Mason organized the New York and Harlem Railroad, a street railway that used horse-drawn cars with metal wheels and ran on metal track. By 1855, 593 omnibuses traveled on 27 Manhattan routes and horse-drawn cars ran on street railways on Third, Fourth, Sixth, and Eighth Avenues.

And the idea of mass transit wasn't limited to Manhattan, of course. Before the first shovel of dirt was dug for the "official" underground subway in 1900, the City of Brooklyn was serviced by a series of elevated railway lines or "Els" under the management of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Corporation, or BRT. By 1883, lines stretched out from Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge to Park Row, shortening the commute to downtown Manhattan.

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