New York’s subway system first opened over a century ago, in 1904, and is now inseparable from the city in the public consciousness. Those who experience it—from locals commuting to work to out-of-towners making the pilgrimage to Times Square—are likely to encounter numerous characters along their routes. It’s a stage for endless human drama, but it’s also a character unto itself, with plenty of kinks and quirks. Throughout its history, the subway has inspired a wide range of artists, who have paid tribute to it in photographs that record couples wrapped around each other during the early hours of the subway’s nocturnal run, or paintings that evoke the profound alienation of urban life as symbolized by this transient, subterranean realm.
By 1934, when Lily Furedi painted Subway
, riding the train had become commonplace regardless of race and class. Indeed, as ’s
monumental mural, America Today
the subway of the late 1920s brought all kinds of New Yorkers into close proximity—from dancers and musicians to businessmen—due to the era’s rapid industrialization and the city’s ascendancy as a vibrant metropolis in the midst of the Jazz Age. The system became so busy that additional lines and stations were needed to ease congestion. Frustrated with the inefficiency of the independent Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT), the city devised what would in 1932 open as the city-run Independent Subway System (IND). Unfortunately, corresponding plans for extensive expansion—including the storied Second Avenue line—were quickly halted by the Great Depression.