Location: Boerum Schermarhorn St., Brooklyn
The New York Transit Museum, one of the city’s leading cultural institutions is the largest museum in the United States devoted to urban public transportation history, and one of the premier institutions of its kind in the world.
The Museum explores the development of the greater New York metropolitan region through the presentation of exhibitions, tours, educational programs and workshops dealing with the cultural, social and technological history of public transportation. Since its inception as a temporary exhibit in 1976, the Museum has grown in scope and popularity. The museum is housed in a historic 1936 IND subway station in Brooklyn Heights.
The New York Transit Museum’s refurbished galleries feature reinstalled popular exhibits such as Steel, Stone and Backbone, which recounts the tale of building New York City’s 100 year-old subway system, and many new highly interactive exhibitions such as On the Streets, an in-depth look at New York City’s trolleys and buses.
New features of interest include user-friendly education workshops and a new computer resource center. With these and many other additions, a fresh and enriching educational experience of the history of New York’s regional transportation network awaits all visitors.
An orientation gallery that introduces visitors to the Museum, its mission, and its unique setting greets visitors. This orientation is expanded through an exhibition of artifacts and new acquisitions which provide an historical overview of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and its operating agencies: New York City Transit; Long Island Rail Road; Long Island Bus; Metro-North Railroad; MTA Bridges and Tunnels, and predecessor companies.
Highlights of the Museum
On the Streets: New York’s Trolleys and Buses, a new gallery dedicated to surface transportation presents, in nine complementing segments, a history of above ground mobility for the last 175 years - from the early 1800s through the 21st Century. The central element of this new exhibition is a simulated traffic intersection complete with traffic lights and coordinated walk-don’t-walk signs, parking meters, fire hydrants, and an array of other street “furniture.” Children of all ages will delight in a new, wheelchair accessible, twelve-seat bus; refurbished 1960s bus cab, and child-sized trolley. Audio interviews with New York City Transit’s Department of Buses personnel and a commissioned photo essay, A Day in the Life of a Bus complete the streetscape. Exhibition sidebars credit two men who were instrumental in the electrification of streetcars and railcars. Frank Julian Sprague (1857–1934), of European descent, often called “the father of electric railway traction” was responsible for the first large-scale successful use of electricity to run an entire system of streetcars in Richmond, Virginia, in 1887–1888; and Granville T. Woods (1856–1910), an African-American inventor who patented more than 60 devices over 30 years that sped development of telegraphs, telephones and electric trains. One of Woods’ most significant inventions, a third-rail system for conducting electric power to railway cars — successfully demonstrated in 1892 in Coney Island — made the subway a reality in New York City. The exhibition also tells the story of Elizabeth Jennings Graham (1830–1901), an African-American schoolteacher who won a landmark legal decision that defined the rights of people of color to ride any public conveyance on the city’s streets. Ms. Graham’s victory occurred 100 years before Rosa Parks won a U.S Supreme Court case in the 1950s, that gave African-Americans the right to sit anywhere in a public bus.
Clearing the Air, a highly interactive segment of On The Streets allows visitors to learn about the evolution of fuel technologies and evaluate their environmental impact. At a series of interactive stops within the exhibition, visitors are encouraged to compare old and new technologies and explore the origin of various fuels used over time, as well as understand steps being taken by Transit’s Department of Buses to reduce harmful emissions.
On the Streets visitors will also enjoy the new Dr. George T.F. Rahilly Trolley and Bus Study Center. The Center features over 50 detailed models of trolleys and work cars created by Dr. Rahilly, a trolley enthusiast whose painstaking depiction of every trolley that ever ran in Brooklyn, is a highlight of the Museum’s collections.
A new exhibition on the platform level, Moving the Millions: New York City’s Subways from its Origins to the Present provides visitors with an overview of the magnitude and complexity of New York City’s rapid transit system. The exhibition uses historical photographs, diagrams, cartoons, period maps, and newspaper clippings to illustrate major issues and events that influenced the development of the largest transportation network in North America. While touring Moving the Millions museum visitors may board the Museum’s vintage collection of subway and elevated trains and visit a working signal tower. New York City Transit’s Division of Car Equipment has lovingly refurbished the Museum’s unparalleled collection of vintage subway and elevated cars. Visitors will be pleased to see their old favorites in mint condition.
A new exhibit on fare collection is illustrated by representative examples of various collection devices used throughout the subway system’s history. Visitors may interact with these devices for a uniquely tactile retrospective experience. The exhibit features the first paper ticket-choppers used in 1904, later turnstile designs that accepted coins and tokens, the MetroCard turnstile currently in operation, and a graphic timeline underscoring milestones in fare collection as well as the fifty-year history of the token. Images from the Museum’s archives not previously displayed show these reliable vintage turnstiles in use in their respective eras.
Elevated City: A History of the Els in New York debuted at the Museum’s Grand Central Terminal Gallery Annex in June 2002. This very popular photo-exhibition has been adapted and reinstalled in the Museum’s mezzanine level. The exhibition takes a retrospective look at New York City’s first mass transportation rail lines, from their birth to their demise. Elevated rail lines of the 1800s enabled people to travel beyond their immediate neighborhoods. With a newfound freedom to travel and escape the surly bounds of lower Manhattan, this ‘commuter class’ of city residents established new communities outside Manhattan throughout the spacious outer boroughs.
Steel, Stone & Backbone: Building New York’s Subways 1900–1925, the Museum’s ever popular exhibition that presents a look at the building of New York City’s first subway line, various tunneling methods, and the people who built it, has been completely refurbished. The exhibition features pictures taken over 100 years ago during construction, along with historical artifacts and period videos. The faces of the workers and images of the birth of the subway evoke a sense of awe and appreciation for the dedication, tenacity and sacrifice of the men who built the subway.
For the newly created art gallery on the mezzanine, the Museum is currently featuring New York’s Forgotten Substations: The Power Behind the Subway, an exhibition of photographs by photographer and author Christopher Payne. These turn-of-the-century power substations once housed huge mechanical rotary generators that converted standard alternating current (AC) power to the direct current, or DC power, needed to drive New York City’s subway system.
The Museum’s new Sanford Gaster Education Center boasts a welcoming area for conducting workshops and hands-on activities for youngsters and a new computer resource center. The resource center will increase the opportunities for research and learning about public transportation currently available to the Museum’s young adult audience. It will feature online access to the Museum’s collections and allow for remote exploration of other transportation related resources. The center extends and greatly enhances the Museum’s educational outreach efforts from a local to a national and global audience.
Cinema Subway an exhibition of movie stills, lobby cards and posters issued to advertise films made in New York City depicting the subway system since the 1920s, is the featured presentation in the Museum’s RR Gallery. The gallery will also host transportation-themed lectures and film and video programs.