Today in History: NYC Subway Opens
On October 27, 1904, New York City opened the subway to the public, with Mayor McClellan controlling the first official train.
Although Boston built the first U.S. train system in 1897, the NYC subway soon became the most extensive American subway system. Planning began in 1894 with the enactment of the Rapid Transit Act, which allowed the city to pay private contractors to build subways and lease the facilities to private companies for equipping, maintaining, and operating.
The Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) operated the first subway line, which ran from City Hall in lower Manhattan to Grand Central Terminal in midtown. Then, the line headed west to Times Square along 42nd Street and finished by traveling north to 145th Street and Broadway. The initial line traveled 9.1 miles through a total of 28 stations.
Mayor McClellan was only supposed to control the first train on opening day for one or two stations but decided to drive the train almost the length of the track - until Broadway and 103rd Street.
The first trains held 15,000 guests and friends invited to this experience before it was open to the general public. Crowds hung around stations to watch riders emerge. According to the New York Times report, "All afternoon, the crowds hung around the curious-looking little stations, waiting for heads and shoulders to appear at their feet and grow into bodies. Much as the subway has been talked about, New York was not prepared for this scene and did not seem able to grow used to it".
After the public had waited all afternoon, the subway opened at 7 p.m. to eager passengers. Over 100,000 people took their first ride under Manhattan, paying a nickel each. There was an average of 25,000 people per hour on the trains that night from 7 p.m. through midnight.
The subway expanded to the Bronx in 1905, Brooklyn in 1908, and Queens in 1915. Today, the New York City subway is the busiest rapid transit system in the U.S., with an average of 5.66 million daily passengers in 2016. It is also the seventh busiest rapid transit system in the world.