Broadway Underground Railway

Alfred Ely BEACH

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Broadway Underground Railway


[BEACH, Alfred Ely]. The Broadway Underground Railway. Route and Plan of Construction, with Reports of Eminent Engineers, and Construction Drawings from the London Underground Railways. New York: Beach Pneumatic Transit Co., 1872. Large tall folio, original full green gilt-stamped cloth rebacked.

Presentation first edition of this rare prospectus and detailed argument for adoption of the Beach plan for extending and developing the first subway line in New York City. Inscribed to, “Hon. Wm. H. Robertson, Compliments of Joseph Dixon,” Secretary of the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company.

The story of the Beach Pneumatic Transit System is a great part of New York City history, and the history of subways in America. Alfred Ely Beach was an editor, entrepreneur, and inventor who decided, after learning that a 2-mile-long pneumatic mail tube had been successfully built in London in 1766, that pneumatic transit was a possibility and might be the answer to developing mass transportation in a metropolis such as Manhattan. In 1867 Beach displayed his idea at the American Institute Fair in New York, and earned the Gold Medal for his invention.

The major obstacle in the way of Beach developing his transit system was the Tammany Hall political machine headed by the mayor of New York, Boss Tweed. Tweed received a kickback from every transportation fare in the city, and allowing a rapid transit line to be built that he did not control would mean a significant loss to him. Beach nonetheless decided he would not pay off Boss Tweed, and the answer was to construct his subway tunnel in secret. He formed a company called the Pneumatic Dispatch Company and received a franchise to tunnel and build tubes to be used for carrying mail. Tweed did not object and was apparently pleased to see Beach diverted from the pneumatic elevated train he thought Beach had planned. Unbelievably, Beach’s subway tunnel was constructed by laborers working at night and when The New York Herald revealed the secret near the completion of the project, Beach stunned New York by revealing the subway line, which ran under Broadway between Cedar and Walton streets, and charging admission for a ride. The station alone was remarkable, 120 feet long, brightly lit, with a fountain filled with goldfish, as well as frescoes, chandeliers and a grand piano. Beach spared no expense (the entire project was said to have cost $350,000) and it was a popular success.

Beach introduced a bill to extend the subway five miles to Central Park, and the bill was passed in the legislature by a wide margin. Unfortunately Boss Tweed stood in the way again, and he made sure the Governor vetoed the bill. The present work was prepared to encourage passage of the second Beach Transit Bill, introduced at the end of 1872 when the Tammany Hall machine was removed from power. The eight large, folding, hand-colored plates depict sections of the London Underground as an example supporting the Beach plan. The text again makes the case for the Beach project and attempts to answer objections; included are testimonials from engineers, lawyers and politicians, stories from newspapers and accounts of public meetings. The legislature did pass the Beach Transit Bill in 1873, but only a few weeks later the financial panic of that year set in and the plan was effectively dead. The tunnel was sealed before long and Beach died without seeing a subway system running in New York. The abandoned station was discovered by workers digging a new subway tunnel in 1912. Inscribed by Joseph Dixon on the title page top margin.

Some light wrinkling to a couple of plates. Text and plates clean. Minor wear to original cloth. A very good and desirable copy. Rare.

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