Vintage Photos Of New York Public Transit Like You’ve Never Seen Before (And Won’t Again)

Published December 2, 2017
Updated February 27, 2024

Believe it or not, the subway was once the height of refinement.

Nyc Grand Central
Subway Hats
Soldiers Waiting
NYC Transit Workers
Vintage Photos Of New York Public Transit Like You’ve Never Seen Before (And Won’t Again)
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Today, New York City's subway system is in disarray with several breakdowns a week and no improvements in sight. Commuters are miserable and the officials in charge have recently been pointing fingers at each.

And what's one of the biggest sources of all these problems? The answer lies in the antiquated systems that haven't been updated since the subway's glory days.

Back when the subways and railroad were new, the city's public transportation carried commuters in their finest garb to work, social events, and nights on the town. Sure, there were less people in New York City back in the early 20th century — there were about a million less people living in New York City in 1940 than there are today — but one look at vintage photos makes it look like public transit catered to the highest class of New York's fanciest.

The subways cars looked calm, sometimes even serene. The railroad was a delightful and smooth way to travel. People would actually ride public transit by choice and enjoy themselves!

Gentlemen wore hats, women wore hose, and there was nary a sweatpant in sight. Today, for better or worse, our dress codes have degraded — along with New York's public transit.

So take a few moments to enjoy what New York City public transit used to look like. And hope that maybe the city is in for a less dingy, more functional future.

Next, see more of just how gorgeous Penn Station once was. Then, see some harrowing photos of New York's subway in the 1980s, when it was the most dangerous place on Earth.

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John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.