New York City Subway History Tour

Visit historical and artistic highlights of the system in Manhattan and Brooklyn.   Discuss its role as the lifeblood of New York City, its history, the early elevated trains, the first IRT subway in 1904, the evolution of the ‘3 systems’ and the Dual Contracts ....

NOTE: if this tour scheduled on request, it can be customized in any desired way to cover particular areas of the system.



Evolution and history of the system

  • The need for mass transit Manhattan and Brooklyn in the late 1800s and its importance to the area’s economy today
  • What constitutes the ‘subway’ vs. the early ‘el’ (elevated) trains
  • Elevated trains existed well BEFORE the first true subway in 1904
  • The private operators of the system, the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) companies; prosperity and later bankruptcies and municipal ownership
  • The Dual Contracts and the 5 cent fare
  • The third ‘Independent’ (IND) division of the 1930s, built directly by the City of New York
  • The “Board of Transportation” of 1940
  • The New York City Transit Authority of 1953
  • The Metropolitan Transportation Authority of 1968
  • Decline, resurgence, expansion and new record levels of ridership
  • Strikes of 1966, 1980 and 2005


The original 1904 IRT subway (ride Times Square shuttle, 6 train south to Bleecker St. with intermediate stops, then 4/5 from Brooklyn Bridge to Borough Hall)


  • Why not straight down Broadway? - Early politics and the later ‘H’ system
  • Original Times Squre and Grand Central subway configuration
  • Original mosaics (stop at 33rd St, Union Square, Astor Place)
  • What’s with those “gap fillers” at Union Square?
  • Quick pass through original and abandoned 1904 City Hall loop


The BMT subway system (ride J from Essex St to Marcy Ave and then back to Chambers Street) ...


  • Its evolution from railroad and trolley operations
  • Early railroad lines to Coney Island
  • BRT 1918 Malbone Street wreck and bankruptcy
  • Williamsburgh and Manhattan Bridge operations and the Chambers Street ‘terminal’
  • Proximity to IRT and elevated lines at City Hall and Brooklyn Bridge
  • The abandoned trolley terminal at Essex Street and the proposed ‘LowLine’


The IND municipal system (ride F from Broadway/Lafayette to Delancey Street)


  • Less ornate but more functional design for faster travel
  • Color-coded mosaics
  • Later ‘merging’ with the BMT lines


Other topics to discuss ...


  • Last Brooklyn trolleys in 1956
  • Last trolley in New York City in 1957 on Queensborough Bridge
  • Consolidation of bus system from many private operators
  • Third Avenue Railway System and Fifth Avenue Coach
  • Subways and buses in popular culture - The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Money Train, Saturday Night Fever, French Connection, The Honeymooners among others - JayZee!




NOTE: On this walk please bring a METROCARD, either an unlimited ride pass or with at least TWO FARES since we will be on the subway much of the time but exiting onto the street at least once.    After the walk, enjoy on your own a lunch in many eateries on Court or Montague Streets or visit the New York Transit Museum (closed Mondays)









Google maps - approximate combined subway and walking route ...






NYC Five Boro Tours





G Shock and Eric (Wikis Take Manhattan 2009 participant) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]