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THE SECRET SUBWAY by Martin W. Sandler


The Fascinating Tale of an Amazing Feat of Engineering

by Martin W. Sandler

Pub Date: May 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4263-0462-0
Publisher: National Geographic

In a grand tale of 19th-century American enterprise, Sandler pays tribute to Alfred Ely Beach, a publisher and inventor who built New York City’s first subway. The author opens with a positively scary picture of what the city’s streets were like at midcentury—swarming with recent immigrants, clogged with carriages and commercial wagons and made deadly by hundreds of horse-drawn “omnibuses.” Not only did Beach come up with a plan to ease the congestion by building an innovative, air-powered subway, he finessed public opinion, the state government and even the all-powerful Boss Tweed by building the first stretch of tunnel in secret, at night. Having solved massive technical problems as he went, he opened it in 1870 to massive acclaim—and then, just as he was about to undertake a huge expansion of the system, he fell afoul of 1873’s devastating economic collapse. Thoroughly illustrated with period images, this is actually a multistranded tale in which Beach, Boss Tweed and New York itself play roughly equal roles; readers will come away admiring the uncommon ambition of all three. (maps, reading list) (Nonfiction. 11-13)