Building the New York City Subway: The Subway Construction Photograph Collection, 1900-1950

Material Description

The Subway Construction Photograph Collection was donated to the New-York Historical Society by the New York City Department of Transportation in 1950. There are approximately 66,000 gelatin silver photographs in this collection, all of which are 8 x 10 inches. All of the images were taken for the purpose of documenting the construction of the New York City subway system and to serve as reference in the event that buildings were damaged during the process. Every street slated to be torn up for the tunnels and the stations, and all buildings located on those streets, were photographed--both before and during the construction process. The collection includes street scenes, underground tunneling, sewer reconstruction, new stations, workmen, as well as some interiors of the new stations. The firms involved were the Rapid Transit Subway Construction Company (to become the Interborough Rapid Transit Company or the IRT), the Brooklyn Rail Transit Company (BRT), and the Independent City-Owned Rapid Transit Railroad (IND). While we know that numerous photographers captured these images, the only one we have been able to identify is Pierre P. Pullis (1870-1942), an American photographer who was based in New York.


During this one year project, the New-York Historical Society will digitize and make freely accessible the 66,000 photographic prints in the Subway Construction Photograph Collection, 1900-1950. When transportation agencies were contracted to build the New York City subways they had insurance photographs taken of every part of the city affected by the construction. The resulting images include surrounding buildings, street scenes, underground tunneling, sewer reconstruction, new stations, and workmen. They provide a remarkable view of the city's urban environment in the first half of the twentieth century, offering an extensive survey of commercial and residential structures along subway lines, glimpses of everyday life, and rich information on the development of a landmark public transportation system. Digitization of the collection will be outsourced, while metadata adaptation and creation will be done in-house. Once completed, researchers will be able to access the collection and its corresponding metadata through N-YHS's new Islandora platform.


Digitizing Hidden Collections

Amount Awarded


Year Added



New-York Historical Society


  • Mr. Henry Raine (New-York Historical Society)

Date Range

1900 - 1950

Geographic Scope

The photographs cover four boroughs of New York—Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. While Staten Island has a subway system, it is not connected to the rest of New York City's underground transit system and photographs of Staten Island's subway system are not part of this collection.


  • 66000 Photographs