The sites and sounds of the NYC subway are well known to the
4.3 million peoplewho ride it every day.
The sleepy commuters, crowded cars, conductor’s voice, and train doors opening and closing are just a part of travelling around New York City.
And though the subway system has only gotten larger and more punctual since the first line was opened, the subway commuters themselves have not changed all that much.
Photographer Enrico Natali moved to New York City to become a photographer’s apprentice in the 1950s. He started taking his own candid shots of people on his commute to work on trains or waiting in the underground stations in 1960.
“Since I lived in the depths of Brooklyn and rode the subway to where I worked in Manhattan, it seemed reasonable to make the subway my first project,” Natali said. “I became so involved in the work that for a time I all but lived in the subway.”
In his recently published photography book, “New York City Subway, 1960,” Natali’s 53-year-old photographs have finally come to light. The pictures show a past era, but those same sleepy commuters, busy cars, and subway conductors.
Then coin-operated subway turnstiles took over, accepting nickels and then dimes when the fare rose to 10 cents.
In June of 1953, the New York State Legislature created the New York City Transit Authority (now MTA New York City Transit). Its job was to manage and operate all city-owned bus, trolley, and subway routes.
Tokens debuted on subway lines in July of 1953, because the turnstiles couldn't handle two different coins when the fare rose to 15 cents.
It was a common scam to jam the token slot with paper. A passenger would insert a token, become frustrated when the gate wouldn't open, and go to a different gate. Then the token thief would suck the token from the jammed slot with their mouth.
It was called 'token sucking' and police officers were known to sprinkle chilli powder into the slots to discourage the thieves.
In 1954, single-route service becomes available from the Bronx at 205th Street all the way to Brooklyn's Coney Island.
Subway car seats have also evolved over the years, from wicker to cushioned chairs, and now the plastic benches we have today.
There were over 1,000 transit police officers, ranging from plainclothes law enforcement officers to those in uniforms.
In addition to security, maintenance was also extremely important: All trains were cleaned daily and tuned up regularly.
Today, the New York subway system is the largest in America, with an estimated 1 billion people going through the turnstiles each year.
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