New York’s First Secret Subway

The first subway in New York was secretly built by Alfred Ely Beach

In 1869, the population of New York was close to one million. However, the transportation method that relied on animal power seriously plagued the city. And in 1846, 20-year-old Alfred Ely Beach together with his partners acquired Scientific American. Since then, he has been brewing Plan to upgrade transportation.

In 1867, as an outstanding inventor of the time, Beach demonstrated an aerodynamic train running in a ground pipeline at the American Academy Exhibition in New York, and received great attention.

Beach once published in “Scientific American” a hydraulic drilling rig that he designed. It is made of wood and metal and has a diameter of about 2.7 meters. It can excavate a circular shape forward under a hydraulic drive tunnel. At this point, all the conditions for building a clean and modern transportation system in Manhattan are in place, and construction can begin only after approval is passed.

New York at that time was completely under the control of the notorious politician William Tweed. For this reason, Beach had to hide the true purpose of the plan. The application stated that it was to build a small-scale underground pneumatic pipeline for the transportation of mail and obtained the government’s construction approval permit.

After that, he quietly passed an amendment and obtained permission to build a large-scale pipeline. After that, Beach invested about 350,000 US dollars to quietly promote the project about 6.4 meters underground on Broadway Avenue.

Using hydraulic drilling rigs, workers can dig about 0.6 meters at a time and reinforce newly excavated tunnels. At regular intervals and distances, workers will also drive metal rods upwards to the road to ensure the correct direction of excavation.

On February 26, 1870, less than two months after the project started, Beach held the opening ceremony of the “Beach Pneumatic Transportation System”. He invited some legislators, scholars, and members of the magazine to enter a brand new underground station through the basement near the store. According to “Scientific American” records, visitors were all surprised: “The station is not humid or dark at all. On the contrary, it is not only spacious and airy but also very comfortable.”

On March 1, 1870, the pneumatic subway was opened to the public for a fee, and each person only paid $0.25 to experience it. A giant fan with a power of up to 100 horsepower installed at the end of the station pushes the enclosed carriage to slowly drive on the track.

The locomotive will travel approximately 91 meters and eventually reach the only other station. The engineer will then adjust the steering of the fan, create negative pressure, and pull the locomotive back to the starting point. The interior of the carriage is luxuriously decorated with artworks, bright zirconium lamps, and seats that can accommodate 18 people. In the following months, thousands of passengers participated in the travel experience.

The Beechcraft project can eventually extend the operating range of the pneumatic subway, across the entire Manhattan area, and extend the carriage to approximately 30.5 meters long. However, when Tweed discovered that he was deceived by Beach and was robbed of the limelight, he was very annoyed.

He not only interrupted the project but also manipulated the government at the time to transfer the funds for the project to the western part of Manhattan. A railway upgrading project. In the financial turmoil of 1873, Beech suffered heavy losses and had to close the Beechcraft pneumatic transportation system project.

On January 1, 1896, Beach, unfortunately, died of hypoxia caused by pneumonia at the age of 69.

Three years after Beach’s death, a building on Broadway Avenue was destroyed by fire. When workers cleaned the site, they accidentally discovered the tunnel that had been sealed in dust for more than 25 years. A “Scientific American” article reported on the discovery, which read: “The tunnel is still well preserved and undoubtedly shows its value in the rapid transit system.”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store