NYC’s subway is not as sleek, clean or as reliable as some other large subway systems. But there is no subway which has a group of users who love their subway as much as New Yorkers love theirs or users who are as disappointed and bitter when it fails to deliver. Right from when it opened on October 27 1904 it generated this enduring mixture of joy and despair.
On the very day of it’s opening a delay occurred not long before the official opening. A fuse blew on the express train at 96th street and repairs took 20 minutes. Fortunately this happened an hour before the opening ceremony occurred and so a public disaster was avoided.
New York’s Mayor at the time of the opening of the subway was George B. McClellan and he was something of a killjoy having tried to hold back the tide of progress by banning motion picture licenses on moral grounds. But he loved the idea of the subway and reacted with great pleasure to being given the honor of driving the first train.
He was upposed to just start it but refused to give up the controller and said “No Sir!. I’m driving this train!”. The General Manager of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company Frank Hedley stood beside him the whole way with a hand on the emergency brake, presumably sweating heavily.
Everyone loved the trains but criticised the advertisements on the stations as something which obscured the beauty of the mural decorations. Thieving was an immediate problem as was manspreading, smelly cigar smoking and people blocking doorways. Untapped Cities Interesting Subway Facts How strange to know these still common problems were there right from the beginning only now the smells come from food not cigars.
The fascinating video was shot in 1905, a year after it opened and is the first film shot of the subway. Getting the film required ingenuity. A camera was lashed to one train which then followed another train in front of it. A third train on a parallel track shone light into the tunnels between stations so some detail could be picked up. The person who made the film was G.W. Bitzer.