1940s IRT SIGN

The Interborough Rapid Transit was the first subway system constructed in NYC, opening October 27, 1904 and running for 28 stations between City Hall and 145th Street. Of those original stations, City Hall, Worth Street, 18th Street and 91st Street have been taken out of service either because modern trainsets can’t negotiate them or adjacent station expansions made them redundant. (A full list of NYC ‘abandoned’ subway stations was compiled by Joseph Brennan a couple of decades ago.) The original route is now part of the Lexington Avenue, Times Square Shuttle, and uptown Broadway IRT lines.

Here’s a photo of an original IRT station sign I snapped at the Transit Museum in 1999. It’s still there, along with many other antique subway signs, if you would like to see it. One thing impresses me right off the bat: if you look at newspaper copy, advertising copy and even subway station signage from previous eras, you know that people had more patience and tolerance for reading a lot of copy or wordage. Compared to today, in which NY Daily News online articles comprise about 8 paragraphs of one or two word sentences, everything was a lot more verbose or prolix in previous years.

This sign was likely located on the Lexington Avenue Line (today’s 4, 5, 6 trains) and showed where the line went and the transfers the passengers could make to other lines. The transfers to the what is now the 2 train are still there at 149th Street. The reference to the 6th and 9th Avenue Els dates the sign to 1942 or prior.  

In the Swingin’ Sixties, the Transit Authority turned to graphic designer Massimo Vignelli, who standardized and streamlined subway signage, employing the Unimark firm he co-founded. At that time today’s subway lines received their now-familiar number and letter designations (until then the IRT and BMT each had their own sets of numbers!)

“Comment…as you see fit.” Comments are once again available in FNY.


Categorized in: One Shots Signs Subways & Trains

16 Responses to 1940s IRT SIGN

  1. Andrew Porter says:

    There was one of these old signs on the stairs down to the Clinton/Montague Street R station, but it was either discarded or taken when the station was modernized a couple of decades ago. It had as a destination an area deeper into Brooklyn.

  2. Mitch45 says:

    This kind of sign would never work today. Not only do most people have short attention spans and won’t read all of this information, a lot of NY’ers are immigrants and can’t read much English, much less understand the references on the sign. Much easier to reduce the routes to just a letter and a number.

    • Ken Buettner says:

      I agree that people today have short attention spans, and that such a sign as this would not work today. However, New York City has always been a home to immigrants, many of whom where not well versed in the English language. Those folks made their way around the City on the Brooklyn Rapid Transit and Manhattan’s elevated lines long before the opening of the IRT in 1904. I think you are selling their abilities short.

      • meesalikeu says:

        of course immigrants made their way around, but not very easily with wordy, cluttered and confusing signage like that. color coded letters and numbers are vastly easier and quicker to understand. i don’t think anyone is selling anybody short, that old sign is quite confusing even for english speaking natives.

        • Ty says:

          In fact the IND stations were color coded in the 1930s so people who could not read any language would know where to disembark.

  3. William Hohauser says:

    I would venture a guess that this was a sign at the 161st Station for people leaving Yankee Stadium.

    • Mark says:

      Had to have been north of 161st. It says South Ferry via 6th and 9th ave elevated. The 9th ave el split off just south of 167th st.

      • William Hohauser says:

        Oops. The way the sign is o formatted I thought it was referring to connections south of 149th St.

  4. Jeff B. says:

    I believe this sign would be from the Jerome Av from 167th St north to Woodlawn. The 6th and 9th Av Els split from the Jerome Av line just south of 167th St station on 162nd St. See Kevin’s post from March 8th to read about the 9th Av El spur.

  5. Marcia says:

    My gosh, I love that style of old signage. When I was a kid in the sixties, there was a lot of that still around. Always wanted one for my sign collection, but they are rare and very expensive these days.

    • Jeff B. says:

      After thinking about this some more, I’m going to get specific and say the sign is from either the Mosholu Parkway station or the Woodlawn station. These are the only two stations on the Jerome Av El above 162nd St that have the stations covered in concrete, so called “pretty stations.” These 2 stations had the rectangular signs at the street level entrance to each staircase. All the other stations on the line had the trapezoidal shaped signs in the railing at the bottom of the open steel staircases.


    I have a two piece sign Order of Stations,from the Boston Main Line el.
    It is post 1919 because it has Everett,which opened that year-yellow on green.
    Also got a front sign from an MUDC car that ran to Queens on the 2nd Avenue el.
    It has Queens Plaza IRT on one side and BMT on the other.
    Both companies shared the operation.

  7. Allan Rosen says:

    In Brooklyn, where all trains went to both Downtown and Uptown where platforms in both directions could be accessed at the same entrance, the language that was used was “Subway to All Trains” which confused the hell out of me. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that the word “subway” did not refer to the trains put to the underground passageway that led to the trains.

    Below that sentence was the usual verbiage listing major stops such as Borough Hall, Grand Central and Penn Station.

    On the BMT southern division lines, the words were “To City” and “From City” referring to the days when Brooklyn was still a separate city. It always seems to take fifty years to update the signage styles as well as the fare structure which is another topic I wrote about here: http://www.rockawave.com/news/2017-01-27/Letters/A_Fare_Discussion.html

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