118 years ago today, Boston welcomed nation’s first subway

As the subway car pulled into Park Street Station just after 6 a.m., crowds cried out from the platforms, holding flags and yelling words of praise toward the conductors.

At least 100 passengers filed off the train, elbows digging into each other as they rushed on their way. The cars were packed, and every seat was taken. But the passengers were just thrilled to have gotten a ride.

It was like many Sept. 1 commutes — hot, cramped, and anxiety-inducing.

But on the morning of Sept. 1, 1897, the mood was full of glee. The Tremont Street Subway had just launched, and the disembarking passengers had just pulled into Park Street Station on the first passenger-carrying subway car in the country.


“It was enthusiastically welcomed,” said Bradley Clarke, president of the Boston Street Railway Association. “The first car from Boston had so many people on it that some rode on the roof.”

An estimated 111,240 passengers rode the subway cars within the first six hours of service, The Boston Daily Globe wrote on the afternoon of Sept. 1, 1897.

Subway cars passed in either direction at Park Street Station every 35 seconds that morning, sometimes carrying as many as 150 passengers at once, though the average was supposed to be about 90.

The first above-ground car to feed into the Tremont Street Subway was the Pearl Street-Allston train that catered to areas near the Harvard Bridge. More than 100 people were aboard when a car on that line pulled into Park Street Station.

“How so many persons ever got aboard one car is a mystery, but they were as dense in the coach as tent caterpillars in an apple tree, and when they made a break for the turnstiles, the scene was more like the debarking of a suburban train at the union station,” the Globe wrote.


Only three sections of track opened on Sept. 1, but those sections alone were expected to remove half of the cars that had been operating on the surface of Tremont Street. Eight other sections of track were set to open by the spring of 1898.

The total amount appropriated for the project was $7 million, though it ultimately cost only $5.5 million, the Globe reported.

It’s been 118 years since that morning, and Boston’s transportation systems have expanded into 175 cities and towns.

The MBTA’s current subway routes amount to roughly 79.6 miles. The cities and towns it serves have more than 4.8 million residents, according to the 2010 census, and the routes have an estimated weekly ridership of 1,297,650.

“It’s expanded to meet the growth of the city,” Clarke said. “Rapid transit was the principle expansion model after the opening of the Tremont Street Subway.”

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @FeliciaGans.