Welcome to the Alfred Ely Beach Pneumatic Subway Web Page.

Overview:
Location: On Broadway Avenue from Warren Street to Murray Street, New York City, New York, USA.
Timespan: 1870 - 1873
Description: The first operating railroad subway in the United States. There was a single station located on Warren Street where passenger were carried in a car propelled by the pneumatic pressure and vacuum created by a huge fan. At the Murray Street end of the tunnel, the car tripped a wire to ring a bell and alert the operator to stop the blower. The conductor then rang the bell to signal the fan operator to reverse the flowing. The car was then "sucked" back to Warren Street station. The Beach Pneumatic Subway was very similar to the Crystal Palace Pneumatic Railway, tested about the same time in England.

Timeline:

  • 1867 - Alfred Ely Beach demonstrates his pneumatic railway principles at the American Institute Fair at the Fourteenth Street Armory.
    • 1868 - Digging begins in the basement of Devlin's Clothing Store on Warren Street.
    • 1870 - February 26: Inauguration of the Subway.
    • 1873 - Subway closed due to lack of riders.
    • 1874 - Tunnel is converted to a shooting gallery and then to a storage vault.
    • 1896 - Death of Alfred Ely Beach.
    • 1898 - Destruction of Warren Street Station.
    • 1912 - Reopening and destruction of the Beach tunnel by the workers digging the BMT tunnel on Broadway.

    Additional information:

    • Tunnel length: 312 feet
    • Tunnel diameter: 9 feet
    • Track gauge: 3 ft
    • Construction costs: 350 000 USD (70 000 USD paid by A.E.Beach himself)
    • Car seating capacity: 22
    • Ticket price: 5 cents
    • Description: A small car on four wheels with a sturdy air tight door to pneumatically seal the tunnel for propulsion.
    • Warren Street Station: Very lavish with a goldfish fountain, grand piano and zircon lighting.
    • Murry Street end: The tunnel terminated with a vertical shaft and grate allowing air to escape as the car moved south on Broadway. It is possible there are some underground remains of the side tunnel and shaft. There was never a useable passenger station on Murray Street, only a ladder up the shaft.

    The car:
    An interesting comparison between an 1870 engraving and a picture of the car remains in 1912.

    Tunnel Portal:
    Another interesting comparison between an engraving and a photograph of the tunnel portal under Warren Street. (Note the candelabra on the left of the picture).

    Tunnel remains in 1912:
    In 1912, workers digging the Broadway subway broke into the Beach tunnel. The Warren Street station was destroyed and sealed off 14 years earlier when Devlin's Clothing Store was demolished. However remain of the car (see above) and the shield used for the construction were found in the tunnel.

    The straight part of the tunnel under Broadway in 1912.
    Note: You can see where the BMT crew broke into the 1870 tunnel and the change in tunnel lining from iron rings to brick.

    Unsolved mystery:

    • Tunnelling shield: What happened to the tunneling shield after its removal from the end of the tunnel and transportation to Cornell University?

    On-line resources:

    Bibliography:

    • Beach, Alfred. "The Pneumatic Tunnel Under Broadway." Scientific American, March 5, 1870: 154.
    • Beach Pneumatic Transit Co. Illustrated Description of the Broadway Underground Railway: 1872.
    • Bobrick, Benson. Labyrinths of Iron. New York: Newsweek Books, 1981.
    • Cudahy, Brian J. Under the Sidewalks of New York: The Story of the Greatest Subway System in the World. Lexington: The Stephen Greene Press, 1988.
    • Hood, Clifton. 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
    • Kaempffert, Waldemar. "New York's First Subway." Scientific American, February 24, 1912.
    • Scientific American, Jan. 11, 1896, no. 74, p.166.

    Historical information is copyrighted (c) and provided by Frederic Delaitre and used with permission.

    For more information, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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