This map depicts New York City’s subway and elevated rapid transit services in Spring 1938, as best I have been able to piece together that information to date. This year was chosen because at that point in time, the network was arguably at its most complex — the collection of elevated lines built in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the late 19th century was still mostly intact, and at the same time, most of today’s subway system (with a few notable exceptions) had already been constructed or was then under construction.
The map is a bit of an anachronistic mishmash. For fun, it “speaks in the present tense” for the time period chosen, as though it had been printed in 1938 to guide the straphangers of that era. But there is nothing stylistically vintage about the map itself; in fact, it borrows certain design elements (e.g., coloring services based on the trunk line they use in Manhattan) adopted only much later.
Prior to unification under municipal control in 1940 (and, practically speaking, for years thereafter), the rapid transit “system” consisted of three separate systems with three operators, whose own maps typically declined to show the networks of their competitors. This map of course depicts all three, with each operator’s network colored with shades of related colors: blue-purple for the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT), orange-yellow-brown for the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT), and red-pink for the municipal Independent Subway System (IND).
Although clearly not useful as a navigational tool in 2019, nonetheless I hope this map provides an interesting historical snapshot into a system that was then operated quite differently from today and allowed a variety of journeys that in some cases are less convenient today than they were 81 years ago.
Please click here to view the full size map in JPG format.