Did You Know? from MetroBlogging

Each Thursday, Metroblogging NYC posts an interesting, little-known trivia tidbit that will help you get to know this city we call home and will also shock and amaze others at parties or around the coffee machine at work. If you have a suggestion for a good trivia subject, LET US KNOW. You can read past trivia entries here.

MB_didyouknow-thumb.jpg I’m a bit late this week, but, better late than never… Anyway, you may have heard that while NYC’s subway system is the largest in America, Boston’s “T” system is the oldest. While it is true that Boston’s MBTA is older than any municipal network in the country, a New York inventor actually experimented and commenced construction on a subway line as much as 30 years before Boston’s system launch!

In the mid 1800s as New York streets swelled with pedestrian and trolley traffic, Alfred Ely Beach, the co-owner of the Scientific American, knew that something needed to be done. The forward-thinking entrepreneur had heard through his reporters of a pneumatic air tube system that had been built in London to haul mail, and it got him pondering the human applications. So, in 1868, Beach secretly rented out the basement of a clothing store near City Hall. He began a clandestine building project, where all construction and materials delivery and removal was completed after dark. Once the 312 foot tunnel was completed (it ran from Warren to Murray Street along Broadway), Beach installed a powerful fan to move the trains via wind power. Beach’s vision of the subway was that of a luxury for the rich, so no expense was spared. The final touch was to installing many amenities in the weighting area, including chandeliers, a Grand piano, and a fountain.

The short line opened to much fanfare in 1870 at a rate of $0.25/ride. While the public was very excited and impressed, Tammany Hall head Boss Tweed was intimidated. He used his political connections to have sitting Governor John Hoffman squash a bill to extend the line all the way up to Central Park. Beach continued his quest to get the line extended, but it never came to fruition. Eventually, the municipal subway system opened in 1904, eight years after Beach’s death.

Further Reading:
About.com
NYCSubway.org
Shohola.com

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