First New York Subway Construction Report
The main aim of this paper was to report on the construction of the first subway in New York, and how the subway would be constructed in modern times. Alfred Ely Beach is credited for constructing the first subway in New York. Beachs subway operated from 1870-1873 after which it closed down because of financial and political factors. Beach constructed the pneumatic subway tunnel by using a tunneling shield. He also designed a train car, which fitted perfectly into the pneumatic tube. Due to the advanced technology present in modern times, the subway would involve more sophisticated technology.
A subway system refers to a special category of trains that operate through underground tunnels. Subway systems consist of several rails, which begin and end at dissimilar places but at the same time overlap at certain points to enable passengers to alight. The rails, used in subway systems, are similar to other railway systems. This means that the subway rails have similar measurements to other railway lines. For example, in New York City the subway rails gauge is 4 feet, 8.5 inches (Carey 16). The trains also consist of numerous connecting cars that have seats and, straps that enable passengers to hold on to whenever the train is full (Carey 17).
Steam engines powered subways, which operated in the past. However, today most subways use electricity to operate. The construction of the first subway in the world took place in London around mid the 19th century. The idea of subway construction later spread to other cities in the world. For instance, the New York subway was the first subway in America. This paper explores the construction of the first New York subway. It examines how, when, and where the first New York subway was constructed.
Place, Period, and Size of the First New York Subway
The construction of the first New York subway is attributed to Alfred Ely Beach. Alfred Ely Beach was a native of Massachusetts. Beach was a publisher, a patent lawyer, and an inventor (Carey 16). For example, he invented the typewriter for the blind. However, one of the most famous inventions, which Beach came up with, was the first subway system in New York (Fischler 23). The subway system was known as the Beach Pneumatic Transit. The inspiration to come up with an underground transportation system resulted from several reasons. First, Alfred Beach got his inspiration from the Metropolitan Railway, constructed in London.
Second, he sought to find a solution to the problem of traffic congestion, which was a major challenge in the city of New York. For instance, in 1860 areas such as Broadway experienced major traffic congestion. Therefore, Beach proposed the construction of trains powered by pneumatics as opposed to the subway trains in London, which used steam engines.
Beach started the construction of the first subway in New York City in 1869 through his company known as the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company. He began to construct the subway underneath Broadway following a successful exhibition of the major subway system at the American Institute in 1867 (Fischler 20). He invested his capital to jump-start the project. After 58 days, Beach had completed the construction of the subway.
The subway system was a single tunnel, which was approximate 312 feet (95 Meters) long, and 8 feet (2.4 Meters) long (Fischler 25). By 1870, the construction was complete and it operated from Warren Street to Murray Street beneath Broadway up to1873. Beachs subway had a single station, which was located in the basement of Devlins clothing store, a building at the Southwest corner of Broadway and Warren Street (Fischler 23).
The subway had a single car that operated along the single tunnel. Most passengers who rode on the Beach Pneumatic Transit were largely eager to satisfy their curiosity. A majority wanted to have an experience of using a subway system. In the first year of the subways operation, 400,000 rides occurred. However, the project was so flamboyant that it could not operate on a large-scale basis. For instance, the subway station had comfortable chairs, ample lighting that revealed the luxurious interior of the station, as well as, statues and a goldfish pond that passengers could look at while they waited for their turn to enter the ride (Roess and Sansone 137-138).
The subway train had a capacity of transporting 22 people per trip. The public showed their approval for the transportation system. However, Beach failed to get permission to expand the subway. Therefore, in 1873 when he finally got a go-ahead, he had lost both public and financial support. The major blow to Beachs project was an economic slump, which made investors freeze their funding for the project. Additionally, the public who rode on the subway could no longer be in a position to do so because of financial constraints.
After Beachs pneumatic train closed down, the entrance to the tunnel was also closed. In 1898, a fire outbreak led to the destruction of the subway station. Initially, there were plans to extend the tunnel towards the Battery in the South and towards Harlem River in the North (Solis 133). However, this plan never took off, and in 1912; the construction of the to the demolition of Beachs tunnel (Post 129). Therefore, Beachs subway never became part of the New York City Subway, which officially began its operation on October 27, 1904.
Civilization and Culture Prevalent during the Construction
Civilization is a term that refers to the material and instrumental side of human cultures that are complex in terms of technology, science, and division of labor (Post 123). When used less strictly, the term civilization also refers to a culture of a particular group of people. Western civilization and culture were prevalent during the construction of the first New York subway. The Western civilization has its root in Europe. The period was characterized by a greater quest for knowledge, which resulted in various inventions across Europe and later spread to different parts of the world. Several transformative historical episodes took place during this period.
For example, the last quarter of the 18th and the 19th century witnessed the occurrence of the industrial revolution in Europe and America. The industrial revolution led to the development of transportation and communication networks in different parts of the world. Britain became the first country to construct a subway system in London. Therefore, other European countries, as well as, America derived their inspiration from the London subway.
Most of the European countries had no option but to improve their transport systems to curb the consequences of the industrial revolution and enlightenment, which were major elements of Western civilization. Western civilization resulted in the growth of towns and cities, an increase in population due to better living standards, and the emergence of democracy. Therefore, European countries and Americans had to come up with solutions to social problems such as traffic congestion. As a result, the idea of the subway system developed not only in Europe but also in America.
The culture of private ownership of property for profit gain was also prevalent during the 19th century when the first New York subway was constructed. For instance, in America and Europe, some capitalists emerged. The main aim of the capitalists was to accumulate wealth through profit gain. Capitalism greatly prejudiced the construction of the first New York subway. For example, a group of the political class who owned property on Broadway sabotaged the construction of Beachs subway.
Some of the people who opposed the Beachs project were Alexander T. Stewart and Jacob J. Astor. These groups of capitalists feared losing their property through the tunneling process. Similarly, other investors had invested in the elevated railways therefore; the construction of underground railways would pose a stiff completion to them. Additionally, the property owners viewed the construction of subways as unpractical. The project also suffered a serious blow when investors withdrew from the project due to an economic slump.
Western civilization and culture played a significant role in the construction of the first New York subway. The construction took place due to increased knowledge and inventions, which had occurred in various fields and the architectural field was not an exception. Beachs subway acted as a prototype of a subway system. It laid a foundation for the construction of the New York City subway, which began its operations officially in 1904. Today, the New York City subway is the largest in the world. Therefore, Beachs subway made a significant contribution in the field of the built environment. The construction of a subway offered a solution to the problem of traffic congestion, which the city of New York suffered from. Such enormous contributions in the architectural field are attributed to Western culture and civilization.
How the First New York Subway was constructed
Alfred Ely Beachs quest of finding a solution to the problem of traffic congestion in Broadway led to the invention of a pneumatic transit system for transporting passengers and mails (Solis 185). Beach built the first pneumatic tube, propelled by compressed air. The pneumatic tube operated underground through a tunnel. Therefore, to construct the subway, Beach used the tunneling technique of construction. One of the most significant machines used by Beach in creating the subway tunnel was the tunneling shield. Beachs tunneling shield was an improvement of the hydraulic shield design that Brunel used to excavate the Thames Tunnel in 1825.
A tunneling shield is a protective structure used in the excavation of tunnels through soil that is too soft or fluid to remain stable during the time it takes to line the tunnel with a support structure of concrete, cast iron, or steel (Solis 186). Therefore, the tunneling shield provided support to the tunnel as Beach and his team continued with the excavation process.
The tunneling techniques of construction are of various forms and used depending on the type of soil. Some of the most important factors to consider when constructing a tunnel include ground conditions, the length, and the diameter of the tunnel, as well as, the final use of the tunnel (Post 129). There are three major techniques of tunneling namely, the , bored tunnels, and immersed tube tunnels. Beach used the of tunneling, which was a predominant method of tunneling during the 19th century.
The cut-and-cover method of tunneling is a simple method of constructing tunnels. It involves excavating a trench into the soil and covering the trench with a strong overhead support system (Roess and Sansone 140). There are two types of of tunneling namely, the bottom-up method, and the top-down method. The bottom-up method entails excavating a trench and constructing a tunnel inside it. After the completion of the tunnel, an overhead surface is constructed. On the other hand, the top-down method involves the construction of side support walls and capping beams from ground level (Post 130). The tunneling shield makes it possible for the excavation of deep tunnels as opposed to shallow tunnels. Thus, Beachs tunneling machine enabled him to construct his subway system beneath Broadway successfully.
The tunneling machine used by Beach created a trench of seventeen inches with a single press on the earths surface (Solis 185). During the tunneling, the workers were to remain inside the tunneling shield, which remained flexible enough to move left or right, up or down (Solis 187). Additionally, Broadway by that time had a sandy ground hence making it more suitable for Beach to use the tunneling shield (Fischler 30).
His son Fred, who was twenty-one years old acted as the supervisor of the project. Fred together with the hired laborers embarked on the project in high spirit and gradually they made tremendous progress. However, some of the hired laborers succumbed to fear because of the conditions. The laborers feared that the horses that passed overhead could crush into the tunnel and bury them alive. Consequently, a good number of the laborers hired for the construction of the tunnel quit the project. On the other hand, those who remained carried on with the project by removing the excavated soil and operating with lantern light.