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The Scientific American

Unearthing the First Subway: Alfred Ely Beach

Do you commute on the subway? If you do, you’re one of millions who swipes their MetroCard each day, and probably does not consider the first people who traveled underground in Manhattan and the subway’s lost history. Alfred Ely Beach was the editor and published of The Scientific American, an inventor, a publisher at The New York Sun, and a patent lawyer. In 1867, he worked in an office on the crowded corner of Chambers Street and Broadway. Traffic congestion, especially down Broadway, was an increasingly pervasive problem in Manhattan and Beach had a hugely ambitious idea: public transportation for New Yorkers, entirely underground. Beach struggled to get the approval and permits he needed from Tammany Hall–New York’s corrupt political organization overseen at the time by William “Boss” Tweed. To legally begin construction, he’d have to possess a franchise, which…

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April 29, 2019

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