A slang for someone who rides the subway a lot is a ‘strap hanger’. The term comes from the early days where there were actual straps that the standing passengers held onto.
This posting illustrates the history of New York City Subway cars and the changes in the seats, and ‘straps’.
Only the very oldest cars have the cloth straps! In addition this BMT Q car has rattan seats that are very cool.
Very early on the cloth straps were replaced with metal ones.
The next version has already moved to the metal bars. I am certain the straps wore out quickly, whereas the bars last forever.
Our next version loses the rattan seats, replaced with these stylish green and yellow stripes. The bars have also evolved to be much larger, so more people can hang on while standing.
This is an IRT R-12 car dating from 1948.
On the IRT R-15 car the bench seating continues, only in solid red, while the bars are still large and protruding. This car dates from 1950.
The first plastic seats make an appearance on an R42. This type of car was most famously used in the 1971 movie The French Connection, where the good guy is in a car chasing the bad guy who stole a train.
Time to board our next car – the ‘straps’ have returned! This car is a R33 ‘World’s Fair’ car, so named as it was released in 1963, the same year the city hosted the World’s Fair.
The last of the straight bench seating makes an appearance.
As we move closer to the modern design, randomized seating.
Finally by the 1970s it looks essentially the same as today’s cars. Not nearly as elegant as the cloth straps and wicker seats, but far more functional and durable.
Time to hang out on the benches in the station and reflect on the changes of the subway over the last 100 years.
The New York Transit Museum hosted a talk and book signing with Phil Coppolla who for the last 40 years has gone around the subway system sketching the mosaic signs and artwork that is omnipresent throughout the system.
After a film maker showed a 22 minute film on Phil they had a panel discussion.
As we left we passed a great example in a nearby station.
The next day at Grand Central Terminal where the Museum has a store and small gallery. They were featuring Phil’s work, including a number of his original sketch books.
Also included are some of the artwork. Astor Place is named for John Jacob Astor, who was one of America’s first millionaires in the early 1800s. He made his first fortune on furs, hence the beaver sculpture.
One of the original 33rd Street pieces.
Phil had very detailed sketches for each one.
After viewing the exhibit you will find yourself looking at the stations in a different light, actively seeking out the artwork.