About the Program
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By the mid-1800s New York City was one of the most crowded places on earth. Each year tens of thousands of new immigrants were arriving, spilling out into the streets and competing with established city dwellers for space. The congested streets and pokey transportation system were a source of constant complaint: "Modern martyrdom may be succintly defined as riding in a New York omnibus," groused one passenger. Another noted, "It would not be decent to carry live hogs thus--and hardly dead ones."
Then, in March 1888, a ferocious blizzard ground the city to a halt. Mountains of snow twenty feet high filled the streets, horse-drawn streetcars and omnibuses lay abandoned, the entire city was paralyzed. The snow left no doubt that New York needed an underground rail system and in 1894, after years of political obstacles, a plan was approved. Construction began in 1900.
Finally, on October 27, 1904, after a day of ceremonies and celebration, the Interborough Rapid Transit--IRT--opened to the public with "indescribable scenes of crowding and confusion," reported The New York Times. More than 100,000 people dressed in their finest clothes went underground that night to "do the subway." There was even a song.
The subway was so successful in reducing street level traffic and redistributing the population that just three years later, plans to expand it were begun. Over the next three decades, construction continued at full pace, and has never completely stopped.
Producer: Elena Mannes
Co-produceer: Libby Kreutz.
Associate producer: Sasha Waters.
Editor: Donna Marino
Music: Brian Keane
Narrator: Len Cariou