The New York Subway: A Century of Progress in Motion - 1904-2004
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Centennial Activities:

Activity #1: Transit Oration
Prepare and then digitally record a persuasive speech – up to 3 minutes in duration – on any topic related to the New York City subway. Persuade someone who usually drives to work to take public transportation instead. Urge someone to adhere to subway safety rules. Urge subway riders to be careful on subway platforms, or to use proper etiquette. Be creative, and speak your mind.

Mike Quill addressing workers, 1935

Michael J. Quill, first International President of the Transport Workers Union, addresses a throng of workers outside the IRT’s 59th Street powerhouse in 1935. The Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO.

Activity #2: Poetry in Motion
Write and submit an original poem that focuses on how the New York City subway facilitates "connections". Your interpretation may be literal or figurative. Selected poets will be invited to recite their poems during a "Subway Poetry Slam".

A 1940 cartoon in The Subway Sun celebrates public ownership of the transit system.

Use Magents

Click the button above to launch some "poetry magnets" which you may use to inspire your work.


Activity #3: Clearing the Air
Design and upload a slide presentation or mini web site that highlights the environmental benefits of using subways specifically or public transportation in general. How does use of public transportation compare to the use of gas-powered automobiles in terms of impact on the environment? Selected student presentations will be highlighted and their authors will be invited to use their slides to speak about their ideas to their class.

Subway token

Subways help reduce the emission of gases which can be harmful to our environment. Click to see this and other tokens up close.


Activity #4: Subway Screenplay
Write a short screenplay that tells a story that is set in the New York City subway system, or that relates to the subway in some other key way. The screenplay should be of a length appropriate for a very short film (5-10 minutes).

Create a visual storyboard for your screenplay, using images (scanned drawings, photographs, illustrations made on the computer, etc.) depicting the major camera shots in your story. When the screenplay is complete, you may use tools available to you to record a reading of the screenplay. Read any non-spoken narrative aspects of the screenplay as a voice-over narration during your recording.

You may do this activity – the screenplay, storyboard and reading – as a group or independently.

Subway Sadie

Adverstisement for the motion picture Subway Sadie, 1926.
Adapted from the Broadway stage hit of the same title, the motion picture Subway Sadie told the story of “a girl in a million straphangers” who had “limousine longings and a subway salary.” The subway‘s unprecedented mixing of genders and classes fascinated -- and often troubled -- contemporary observers.


Activity #5: Transit by the Numbers
Create and then upload a digital image (original art, diagram or photograph) along with a 400-600 word essay or proof that explains how the subway system illustrates a particular mathematical principle. Explain the mathematical principle itself, and describe how this aspect of the subway would be different without it. You may draw on geometry, calculus, trigonometry, algebra or other mathematical fields of study.

Mosaic tile work by Elizabeth Murray, featured at the 59th Street Subway station

A close up of Blooming, a mosaic by Elizabeth Murray, 1996. This glass mosaic is featured on the mezzanine connecting the 4,5,6 and the N,R,W at the 59th Street subway station. Mosaics illustrate many mathematical concepts, including illuminating the study of "tesselations".CLICK the image above to experiment with mosaics and tesselations.


Activity #6: Physics in Transit
Create an image, diagram, digital animation or digitized video clip, along with a 500-600 word paper or proof, that explains how any aspect of the subway system illustrates a particular principle in the study of physics. Challenge yourself to not use the most obvious idea that comes to your mind, but consider an aspect of the subway system where you had not thought much about the presence of physics principles. You may focus on a small detail, such as something found only in a particular station, or a more general idea, such as force at work in the motion of all subway cars.

Interior of a NYC subway car.

Whether you're on a subway car, waiting carefully on the platform, or entering the station from aboveground, physics principles are all around you.


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 must 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 Project:
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.

MORE ...

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.

See Webcast


Activity #8: Subway Song
Compose an original song about the subway. Perform or sing your song, and record it using tools available to you. Your song may have lyrics and/or music.

Sheet Music, Take the A Train, 1941. Music by Billy Strayhorn, Published by Tempo Music. New York Transit Museum

Sheet Music, Take the A Train, 1941. Music by Billy Strayhorn, Published by Tempo Music. New York Transit Museum.

The 1941 swing hit, composed by Strayhorn and arranged by Duke Ellington, helped to make the A line of the IND New York’s most famous subway route. The song has since become a classic, helping to make the Harlem-bound line a memorable part of American culture.

Activity #9: CarCard Campaign
Design an original CarCard and subway station billboard campaign as a publis service announcement. Consider ad placement and be prepared to justify your decisions. Your campaign may be current, and be based on topics like: subway safety or the subway centennial. You may instead design an historical advertising campaign with a public service message appropriate for the time period you select. You can even design your campaign for the future! Base your campaign on factual research. Share a document containing sample images, posters and a description of your overall campaign with your teacher. You may also choose to present your campaign in the form a mini web site.

The Subway Sun

See Webcast

Activity #10: Subway Mind Map
Make an artistic rendering of the New York City Subway map that emphasizes areas of personal importance to you within the city. Where do you live? Near what station do those you care about call home? What stop is closest to your favorite park, store, museum or your favorite place to play, read or learn? Where were you when you learned one of your most important life lessons to date? Think about creative ways to use a subway map to tell people about who you are and what matters most to you.

You may create your map from scratch, or use an actual subway map as a starting point. Materials may include digital photographs, crayon, pen and ink, collage -- you name it. Feel free to accompany your mind map with a short (100-200 word) written summary of your work.

You may also use the virtual exhibit of historic subway maps to draw some inspiration.


Queensboro Corporation Advertisement, Jackson Heights, May 1917. Vincent F. Seyfried Collection

Rapid Transit Guide, New York City Transit Authority, 1969. New York City Transit Museum.

Go back in history, and look at some historic depictions of the New York City subway system as it evolved through time:


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New York Transit Museum Centennial Subway Student Activity Depot