Source: New York Transit Museum - Subway Centennial Student Activity Site

Activity #7 - The New York Transit Times

Take on the role of a journalist living and writing twenty to one hundred years ago. Write an original news story involving some aspect of the creation or history of the NYC Subway. Your article should rely on historic fact for context, but it need not describe an actual event. The piece you write may be serious or humorous, but it should follow conventional journalistic standards. You might also decide to write an editorial piece; if you do, be sure to make clear why you hold the opinion you do (i.e. describe who is your historic character).

Your Submission:
Your article should have an appropriate headline, be no more than 450 words, and incorporate at least two quotes. You may also include an original illustration or photograph.

Submit your historically-based article to the your teacher. Selected articles may be assembled into an historic Centennial Edition of the The New York Transit Times.

A 1940 cartoon in The Subway Sun celebrates public ownership of the transit system.
Subway Car-Card, Subway Sun: Unification, June 12, 1940. New York Transit Museum.

A 1940 cartoon in The Subway Sun celebrates public ownership of the transit system as “Mr. Receiver” (city official Thomas Murray) hands over the IRT to “Mr. Mayor” (Fiorello LaGuardia).

The private IRT had declared bankruptcy in 1932. Although the subways were essential to New York, bailing out a private company with public funds was controversial. So the city determined to buy out the private lines. After eight years of negotiations, the IRT and BMT officially joined the city-operated IND, unifying mass transit under a single city agency.


Museum Resources Related References Educators Notes

Museum Resources:
The New York Transit Museum is located at the corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn Heights, New York. The Museum provides a wide array of rich resources to assist in primary research and inquiry-based learning about the history of the subway. The following Museum resources pertain directly to this activity:

  • Elevated City: A History of the Els in New York is a a popular photo-exhibition that is installed in the Museum’s mezzanine level. The exhibition takes a retrospective look at New York City’s first mass transportation rail lines, from their birth to their demise. Elevated rail lines of the 1800s enabled people to travel beyond their immediate neighborhoods. With a newfound freedom to travel and escape the surly bounds of lower Manhattan, this ‘commuter class’ of city residents established new communities outside Manhattan throughout the spacious outer boroughs.
  • Steel, Stone & Backbone: Building New York’s Subways 1900–1925: This Museum exhibition presents a look at the building of New York City’s first subway line, various tunneling methods, and the people who built it, has been completely refurbished. The exhibition features pictures taken over 100 years ago during construction, along with historical artifacts and period videos. The faces of the workers and images of the birth of the subway evoke a sense of awe and appreciation for the dedication, tenacity and sacrifice of the men who built the subway.
  • Moving the Millions: A new exhibition on the platform level, Moving the Millions: New York City’s Subways from its Origins to the Present provides student visitors with an overview of the magnitude and complexity of New York City’s rapid transit system. The exhibition uses historical photographs, diagrams, cartoons, period maps, and newspaper clippings to illustrate major issues and events that influenced the development of the largest transportation network in North America. While touring Moving the Millions student visitors to the Museum may board the Museum’s vintage collection of subway and elevated trains and visit a working signal tower. New York City Transit’s Division of Car Equipment has lovingly refurbished the Museum’s unparalleled collection of vintage subway and elevated cars.
  • Fare Collection: A Museum exhibit on fare collection is illustrated by representative examples of various collection devices used throughout the subway system’s history. Visitors may interact with these devices for a uniquely tactile retrospective experience. The exhibit features the first paper ticket-choppers used in 1904, later turnstile designs that accepted coins and tokens, the MetroCard turnstile currently in operation, and a graphic timeline underscoring milestones in fare collection as well as the fifty-year history of the token. Images from the Museum’s archives not previously displayed show these reliable vintage turnstiles in use in their respective eras.
R Related References

In addition to the Transit Museum itself, there a great many books, films and web sites about New York City subway history that can be consulted for this project. There are also many resources pertaining to the writing of a good article and to journalistic conventions. Here are a few related resources:


  • 722 Miles - The Building of the Subways by Clifton Hood.
    "Clifton Hood traces the complex and fascinating history of the New York City subway system. At its opening in 1904, the tracks covered the twenty-two miles from City Hall up to 145th Street and Lenox Avenue, the longest stretch ever built at one time. From that initial route through the completion of the IND, the Independent Subway, in the 1940s, the subway grew to cover 722 miles -- long enough to reach from New York to Chicago."

    This book is usually available at the Transit Museum store, and is also available online.

  • Evolution of New York City Subways by Gene Sansone
    An Illustrated History of New York City's Transit Cars, 1867-1997

    A collaborative labor of love by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the New York Transit Museum, Gene Sansone's Evolution of New York City Subways: An Illustrated History of New York City's Transit Cars, 1867-1997 -- now available from the Johns Hopkins University Press with a new foreword by Clifton Hood -- offers an extensive array of photographs, line drawings, and stories about the city's most treasured railcars. Subway buffs, railfans, students of New York City history, and specialists in the history of technology will appreciate this authoritative account. MTA New York City Transit and Sansone provide a record of the rolling stock that helped make New York City one of the great cities of the world."

    This book is usually available at the Transit Museum store, and is also available online.

  • Tunneling to the Future by Peter Derrick
    The Story of the Great Subway Expansion That Saved New York.

    "In 1910, New York City was bursting at the seams as more and more people crowded into a limited supply of housing in the tenement districts of Manhattan and the older areas of Brooklyn. With no outlet for its exploding population, and the burgeoning social problems created by the overwhelming congestion, New York faced a serious crisis which city and state leaders addressed with dramatic measures. In March 1913, public officials and officers of the two existing rapid transit networks shook hands to seal a deal for a greatly expanded subway system which would more than double the size of the two existing transit networks.

    At the time the largest and most expensive single municipal project ever attempted, the Dual System of Rapid Transit set the pattern of growth in New York City for decades to come, helped provide millions of families a better quality of life, and, in the words of Manhattan borough president George McAneny (1910-1913), "proved the city's physical salvation." It stands as that rare success story, an enormously complicated project undertaken against great odds which proved successful beyond all measure. Published in conjunction with the History of the City of New York Project."

    This book is usually available at the Transit Museum store, and is also available online.

Web Sites:

Journalism Online Resources

NYC Subway History Online Resources

E Educators Notes

This activity provides a great deal of flexibility in terms of how you can integrate it into your curriculum or school activities.

Curriculum Integration:

This activity can be:

  • integrated into social studies classes or lessons
  • integrated into language arts, communications, or journalism classes or lessons
  • offered as an extra credit project to students
  • suggested by a guidance counselor or teacher as an opportunity to do a great educational communication project that could lead to distinguished recognition of the student by a renowned Museum
  • adapted to focus on only particular time period under study in your class
  • used as a pre-assignment leading up to a field trip to the New York Transit Museum or other NYC Museum
  • used as a follow-up assignment
  • tied into the class reading of a literary work that involves the New York City subway as a backdrop.


Students can be assessed on:

  • according to their use of conventional rules of journalism (i.e. their use of the "inverted pyramid" approach to journalistic writing)
  • creativity or originality of story idea
  • use of primary and secondary resources
  • appropriateness of quotes used
  • appropriate basis on historical fact
  • use of supporting original illustration, diagram or photgraph
  • effectiveness of headline in descriving article that follows
  • if an editorial, use of supporting facts to defend viewpoint expressed

Applicable Learning Standards:
A great number of learning standards apply to this activity.
Among the applicable standards at the high school level are:

  • New York City – Performance Standards

    English Language Arts


    E1(c) - Read and comprehend informational materials.


  • E2(a) - Produce a report of information.
    E2(c) - Produce a narrative account (fictional or autobiographical).

Conventions, Grammar, and Usage of the English Language:

    E4(a) - Independently and habitually demonstrate an understanding of the rules of the English language in written and oral work.
    E4(a) - Analyze and subsequently revise work to improve its clarity and effectiveness.

Public Documents:

    E6(a) - Critique public documents with an eye to strategies common in public discourse.
    E6(b) - Produce public documents.

Functional Documents:

    E7(a) - Critique functional documents with an eye to strategies common to effective functional documents.
    E7(b) - Produce functional documents appropriate to audience and purpose.

Applied Learning Standards

Information Tools and Techniques:

A3(c) - Use word-processing software to produce a multi-page document.

  • New York State Learning Standards

    Social Studies:

    SS1(c) - Research and analyze the major themes and developments in New York State and United States history (e.g., colonization and settlement; Revolution and New National Period; immigration; expansion and reform era; Civil War and Reconstruction; The American labor movement; Great Depression; World Wars; contemporary United States)

    - Prepare essays and oral reports about the important social, political, economic, scientific, technological, and cultural developments, issues, and events from New York State and United States history

    - Understand the interrelationships between world events and developments in New York State and the United States (e.g., causes for immigration, economic opportunities, human rights abuses, and tyranny versus freedom)

    - Analyze historical narratives about key events in New York State and United States history to identify the facts and evaluate the authors perspectives

    SS2(c) - Analyze evidence critically and demonstrate an understanding of how circumstances of time and place influence perspective

    Analyze the roles and contributions of individuals and groups to social, political, economic, cultural, and religious practices and activities

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