New York’s Secret Subway

Samuel Reason | May 17th, 2018

New York officially opened a subway in 1904 which changed the way the city operated forever. However what is relatively unknown is that this was not actually New York’s first subway, in fact, the first subway ever opened in America was opened in New York and it was actually a complete secret.

Broadway at the time was becoming extremely congested and one budding entrepreneur had the idea to build a subway. His name was Alfred Ely Beach and he owned a magazine called Scientific American. He had a plan to build a tunnel, then use a giant fan to move a railway car through the tunnel. The fan would then suck air to bring the railway car back. There was, however, one big problem: William Tweed.

The commissioner of public works at the time Tweed was extremely corrupt, he received most of his income from public transport so did not want to agree to any project that would decrease his income. So Beach pretended his tunnel would be used as a mail delivery system, this way he received the needed consent to start work.

A small group of men sworn to secrecy started work on the tunnel, hiding the dirt in an underground basement. The whole project was kept secret and work went well, but just before they finished the first line, everything was found out by the press. They worked very hard and were able to finish the first line, opening up in 1870. From Warren Street to Murray Street the underground traveled for only 25 cents. In one year of operation, it carried over 400 thousand passengers.

Tweed was so unhappy that he never allowed any further extensions, he was however eventually imprisoned for corruption. Unfortunately, by this time, the great depression had set in and Beach could not find any more investors to allow him to continue working.

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