Before subways had air conditioning

This week, when you’re sweating it out on a hot and sticky subway platform, be glad that at least the subway cars are fortified with AC. 

Because of course, it wasn’t always that way.

The 1933 photo at left depicts city officials showing off what was then a major breakthrough, a ventilation system installed to cool down trains.

The ventilation system? Basically just ceiling fans.

Air-conditioning didn’t come to subway cars until the late 1950s, and even then only a few trains had it. 

Gradually more AC-equipped trains were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s.

Yet even by 1983, a subway rider had only a one in three chance of landing an air-conditioned train, according to a New York Times article from that year.

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8 Responses to “Before subways had air conditioning”

  1. Thomas Jefferson Says:

    Do I ever remember riding the subway in the late 60’s and early 70’s. It would be stiffling down there in the summer months.

  2. Eric Says:

    Hey E!

    Here’s a link to a Forgotten NY article on the abandoned lines of the SIRT:

    Apparently there used to be three branches– the main line (still in use), the North Shore line, and the South Beach line. I think the sunken abandoned stations that I saw were on the South Beach line, around Mariners’ Harbor.

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Cool! Speaking of Staten Island, remind me to tell you about ferrying over to Snug Harbor a few weekends ago.

  4. New York heat: Does subway air conditioning make it worse? | Metropolitan Walker Says:

    […] The first air conditioned cars rolled into service in the late 1960s, about six decades after the subway opened. But because subway cars last so long, it took decades more for the new models to replace the old ones. […]

  5. brian Says:

    As a kid the fast-moving trains were cooler when the windows were open and the dank tunnel air raced through the dim, incandescent-lit cars. Wearing a stripped t-shirt and shorts (purchase by my mom from E.J Korvette’s) the wicker seats would leave their impression on the back of my bare legs.

  6. Alex Says:

    Not only were there ceiling fans blowing hot air around, but all the windows were open, as well as the doors between the cars. It was part of the culture of traveling the subways. I don’t recall air conditioning until around 1970 when a new line of trains had air conditioning.

  7. Says:

    Yes! Finally someone writes about new york air conditioning.

  8. History in the Making: The Long, Forgotten Trail Edition - The Bowery Boys Says:

    […] You think it’s hot down in the subway today? Imagine what it was like several decades ago — without air conditioning. [Ephemeral New York] […]

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