The first subway car in Boston took its maiden voyage on September 1, 1897. Arriving at that momentous occasion took years of planning and construction, not to mention a few setbacks along the way. In the end, a new era of man-made engineering was put into motion, revolutionizing urban transportation and broadening the perception of human capability forever. All of this was thanks to the brilliance of one man, Frank Sprague, an unsung hero in American engineering history and the deserving subject of a new PBS American Experience documentary, “The Race Underground.”
In these photos, you’ll take a ride through the past and watch the first subway grow from an idea to a reality along (and under) the streets of Boston.
Frank Sprague on railway flatcar in Manhattan where he tested his motor with Jay Gould, 1885
Washington Street, downtown Boston, extremely congested, ca. 1887
Workers overlooking construction of subway in Boston Common, April 24, 1895
Horses carrying dirt during subway construction, 1896
Bird’s-eye view of construction at Tremont and Park Street
Aftermath of gas explosion, March 4, 1897. Ten people were killed and over seventy five injured. Taken ten minutes after the explosion.
Boylston Street subway station prior to opening day
Motorman James “Jimmy” Reed steers out America’s first subway car at the Allston train shed, September 1, 1897
Opening day for subway, Public Garden entrance
Boylston Street subway entrance, September 15, 1897
Subway cars emerging from tunnel at Public Garden
Frank Sprague (center rear) standing behind Thomas Edison (center seated), 1910
“The Race Underground” airs on January 31 at 9 p.m. on WGBH 2.