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Transit

NYC mass transit over the years

Mass transit has fueled the growth of New York City into the global metropolis that we know today.

It began humbly in the form of horse-drawn carriages before evolving into trolleys and streetcars with electrification and steam-powered engines. Modes of transportation coexisted. Elevated trains were introduced. Tunnels were built for subways. Buses began roaming the byways. Each new technology has created, over the decades, today's modernized system that sprawls across the five boroughs -- an indispensable if overburdened and aging network.

To argue that this network of public transportation, with its 2.73 billion trips each year, is vital to sustaining the economy and social life of New Yorkers is a no-brainer, and historians have long referred to it as the "bloodstream" or "lifeblood" of the city.

Here we look back at how mass transit has evolved from its beginnings in the 1820s to today's modern subways with rare images courtesy of the city's Transit Museum.

Horse-powered carriage in Brooklyn, circa 1900

Horse power provided the first mode of public
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

Horse power provided the first mode of public transportation in the city, beginning in the 1820s. Up to 12 passengers at a time could travel in these horse-drawn omnibuses. Above, three men travel via horsecar near Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The sign posted along the top of the car tells commuters: "Pay as you enter - Fare 5 cents - No transfers."

Railway Horsecar on Bleecker & Broadway, 1917

Metropolitan Street Railway Horsecar Number 97 waits on
Photo Credit: Courtesy New York Transit Museum

Metropolitan Street Railway Horsecar Number 97 waits on the Bleecker Street & Broadway Line. Horsecars ran along tracks throughout the city, which provided a smoother ride for passengers. These were often referred to as streetcars.

Henry Ford rides a horsecar in Brooklyn, 1928

Henry Ford visited Brooklyn and commandeered a Brooklyn
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

Henry Ford visited Brooklyn and commandeered a Brooklyn City Railroad Company horsecar to display in his American Village Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, on May 8, 1928. By the 1920s, a majority of American citizens had learned to drive Ford's Model T.

Steam train in Manhattan, circa 1890

The elevated rapid service -- the
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

The elevated rapid service -- the "El" -- was introduced in 1867. Steam-powered trains like this one on either the Third or Ninth avenue lines in Manhattan were the earliest to arrive, but were soon electrified. While most elevated railroads were torn down with the advent of the subway, some sections still exist today.

Elevated cars on the Brooklyn Bridge, circa 1914

A view of an early Manhattan from the
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

A view of an early Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge, where Brooklyn Union elevated cars functioned from 1900 to 1958.

Trolleys in the Bronx, 1921

Trolleys were the children of horse-drawn streetcars, but
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

Trolleys were the children of horse-drawn streetcars, but with electrification driving them. Here, Third Avenue cars made their way along Broadway and 242nd Street in the Bronx on May 22, 1921. Lines running in Manhattan and the Bronx were converted for buses by 1948, leading to the shutdown of the Third Avenue Railway in 1956.

Brooklyn Trolley, 1945

Brooklyn Trolley #5060 makes its way across the
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

Brooklyn Trolley #5060 makes its way across the Brooklyn Bridge in 1945. Today, more than 120,000 vehicles cross the landmarked bridge daily.

Fulton Street cars cross Brooklyn Bridge

A street car works its way across the
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

A street car works its way across the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. An elevated connection added in 1900 allowed Fulton Street cars access from the bridge to Park Row in Manhattan.

Line trolley on Williamsburg Bridge

A Tompkins Avenue Line trolley rests on the
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

A Tompkins Avenue Line trolley rests on the tracks of the Williamsburg Bridge. The sign posted to the front of the trolley instructs riders to "Pay as you enter. Have exact fare ready." The last trolley ran over the 59th Street Bridge until 1957.

Subway train on the A line, circa 1932

In 1904, the Interborough Rapid Transit was built
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

In 1904, the Interborough Rapid Transit was built as the first subway. This is a picture of R1 cars that were manufactured from 1930 to 1931 by American Car and Foundry.

R-21 Car 7110 in a station, circa 1960s

A subway rider peeks out a train door
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

A subway rider peeks out a train door window as it waits at a Broadway station. R-21 train cars were built from 1956-57 by St. Louis Car.

No. 2 train in yard, 1990s

This line of R110A trains was built by
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

This line of R110A trains was built by Kawasaki Heavy Industries in 1992.

Coach Company bus on Fifth Avenue

The first buses were introduced on Madison Avenue
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

The first buses were introduced on Madison Avenue in 1919. In this picture, a loaded Coach Company bus numbered 903 makes its way down Fifth Avenue near 40th Street in Manhattan in an undated photograph.

Early trolley bus at Cortelyou Road & Ocean Parkway

Trolley bus #1005 makes a stop on Cortelyou
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

Trolley bus #1005 makes a stop on Cortelyou Road & Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn in an undated photograph.

1956 Mack C-49-DT, Grand Central Terminal

A preserved museum bus goes for a spin
Photo Credit: Courtesy of New York Transit Museum

A preserved museum bus goes for a spin on city streets again in front of Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan on December 28, 2009.

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