Photos: Manhattan’s First Subway Line Opened 112 Years Ago Today


The only thing New Yorkers love to complain about more than tiny apartments is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its behemoth of seemingly always late, always overcrowded trains. Despite its many woes, it’s worth marveling at the country’s largest subway system. Today in 1904, Manhattan’s first subway line opened, a whopping 112 years ago.

The first subway line was operated by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company and stretched 9.1 miles, beginning at City Hall in lower Manhattan. The route traveled north to Grand Central Terminal, then cut west to Times Square before continuing north to 145th Street and Broadway, in Harlem, where the line ended. There were 28 stops in all.

The inaugural run took place at 2:35 in the afternoon with former Mayor George McClellan at the controls. He reportedly drove the train from City Hall to 103rd Street. The line opened to the general public later that night; roughly 100,000 New Yorkers paid a nickel for a ticket to take a ride the first day.

The IRT expanded service to the Bronx in 1905, Brooklyn in 1908, and to Queens in 1915. In 1968, the state legislature formed the MTA, which has overseen all subway operations (plus a series of expansions and transitions from tickets to coins to tokens to MetroCards) ever since. With the exception of New Jersey’s PATH trains, it is the only rapid transit system in the world to run 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, an impressive feat, even if it does take them almost a century to build a new line.