Located at the corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn, the New York Transit Museum is in the space that was once the first underground subway station in the city. Our Educator, Roberto, spoke of the station’s rich history, took us on non-working subway cars, and stressed the undeniable bond between transportation and immigration.
From 1900-1925, 30,000 men began the backbreaking work of building the first city subway station. They were Irish immigrants and African-Americans, working ten hours a day in dark, dangerous, broiling places, all for the stingiest wages.
The first underground line of the New York City subway, the Interboro Rapid Transit (IRT), opened on October 27, 1904. The fare was a nickel, and from the beginning, the subway was tremendously popular. The subway helped the overpopulated Lower East Side since many residents found other places to live. German immigrants moved to Yorkville; Italians to East Harlem; the Yiddish stayed put.
While we sat in subway cars from different times, Roberto shared subway scoop. New York City’s subway was the second U.S. subway built, Boston being the first. New York has 472 subway stations, the most in the world. The subway’s builder, William Barclay Parsons, didn’t want different cars for different classes. He thought each subway car should reflect the city’s diversity.
Our first car, from 1904, was made of wood and had rattan seats. As comfy as the seats were, women weren’t thrilled when a piece of rattan would tear their nylon stockings! Our next subway, from 1917, had center doors for the first time. Old advertisements filled the car, providing revenue to help with the subways’ upkeep.
With the 2016 opening of the Second Avenue subway, transportation and immigration celebrate each other. At the 86th Street Station, artist Chuck Close has created portraits of people out of mosaic tiles. There are some celebrities, as well as a wide array of individuals who pass though the MTA system. It is the ultimate tribute to New York City’s diverse and immigrant population –almost as if to say, “You are here, you belong here, have an absolutely wonderful trip!”
To learn more, visit nytransitmuseum.org or call 718-694-1600