A Great Big City

March 24 in History: Ground-Breaking Ceremony for the Rapid Transit System on "Tunnel Day"

IRT subway sign at Wall Street Station
IRT subway sign at Wall Street Station via Delaywaves on Wikimedia Commons

The city's subway system started to come together 116 years ago today as the ground was broken to begin the Rapid Transit system.

At City Hall on March 24, 1900, Mayor Van Wyck held a ground-breaking ceremony to begin subway construction. City officials, a thousand police officers, and a huge group of onlookers gathered outside City Hall on a Saturday afternoon to witness the celebration.

A New York Times article from the time paints a lively scene of crowds gathered and the comments delivered as city officials dug into the ground with a sterling silver shovel made by Tiffany & Company! Members of the crowd pushed forward and tried to grab dirt and pieces of rock from the ceremonially-excavated break in the sidewalk in front of City Hall, and Mayor Van Wyck even gathered the first shovel of dirt into his new silk hat.

Real work on the Interborough Rapid Transit system would begin later that week and open four years later on October 27, 1904.

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