Author Archives: Ben S.

Primary Sources: NYC Subway History

Primary Sources: Books


Note: Because I’m researching transportation to the area around the Farragut Houses, both now and in the past, I’ve selected books about New York City subway and elevated train history. I’ve included below descriptions of their content taken either from the website, from, or from both.

See: for all these resources.


  1.  A History of the New York City Subway System

Joseph Cunningham and Leonard De Hart

Published by the authors, 1976

Available at NYU’s Bobst Library, Brooklyn Historical Society Main Collection, TF874.N5 C78 1976

“Vol 1: The Manhattan Els and the I.R.T.; Vol 2. Rapid Transit in Brooklyn; Vol 3. The Independent System and City Ownership. Hard to find history of the Manhattan els and the Interborough; Brooklyn els and the BMT; and the Independent subway and city operation.”


  1. BQT: The Brooklyn & Queens Transit, From Coney Island to Flushing

Harold A. Smith and Frederick A. Kramer

Flanders, NJ: Railroad Avenue Enterprises Publishing, 2002
ISBN: 1882727193

Available from

“Contains a brief historical review of B&QT operations and many b&w photographs of trolleycars in Brooklyn and Queens, including the PCC cars.”


  1. Brooklyn Manhattan Transit: A History as Seen Through the Company’s Maps, Guides and Other Documents: 1923-1939

James Poulos

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011

ISBN: 1466260165

Available from


“This book reproduces, in full color, BMT route maps, service guides, track maps, rosters, and promotional material from the period 1923-1939.”

“A history of the Brooklyn Manhattan Transit Corporation from 1923–1939 as seen through original source documents such as maps, guides and brochures. Includes full color images of every map and service guide issued by the company as well as brochures for all of the experimental cars in its roster. Finally, it includes a map of the BMT trolley and bus routes as well as the service guide the BMT issued for its bus services. The section on trolleys also includes excerpts from the BMT Monthly describing the PCC car. A must-have for anyone interested in the history of the New York Subway System. This book expands upon the magazine entitled Mapping the BMT that was sold at the 2010 Mass Transit and Trolley Modeler’s Convention. The guides are larger and easier to read, the map collection was completed, and additional material was added.”


  1. New York Subways: An Illustrated History of New York City’s Transit Cars

Gene Sansone

Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press in association with the New York Transit Museum, 2004; Centennial Edition

ISBN 0801879221

Available at NYCCT Stacks, HE4491 .N65 S26 2004


“The centennial edition of this book is the definitive guide to the rolling stock of the NYC subway and elevated system, covering the first elevated line in 1867 thru the R-142 car contract of 1997. Each car type is illustrated with photos, mostly black & white, and a writeup, as well as the diagram sheets from the NYCT internal publication Revenue and Non-Revenue Car Drawings where available. This book is a good general introduction to the car types, but the other books in this section go into further detail and illustration about the “sub-classes” (no pun intended) of the cars (early IRT, early BMT, and R-types). There are some color photos but New York City Subway Cars is the clear winner in that category. This book is unique in one other respect: it is the first comprehensive book about any aspect of subway history published by MTA New York City Transit, and hopefully not the last. This book is a necessary addition to any subway fan’s collection. First two editions titled The Evolution of New York City Subways: An Illustrated History of New York City’s Transit Cars, 1867-1997.”


  1. The Brooklyn Elevated

James C. Greller and Edward B. Watson

Hicksville, NY: N.J. International, 1987

ISBN: 0934088209

Available from

“Handsomely done collection of photos of the Brooklyn elevated system. Based largely on the collection of Edward Bishop Watson, past president of the Brooklyn Historical Society and dean of New York transportation history, this collection is definitive and well-chosen. The book covers early steam railroads to Brooklyn’s beaches and over the Brooklyn Bridge as well as the elevated lines. Shows Classes 1000, 1100, 1200, 1300, 1400, rebuilt, C, Q, and work cars (including crocodile-style electric locomotives). Includes rosters of BRT equipment. Illustrated throughout with black and white (and some color) photos. With several maps, including one showing service to the 1939 World’s Fair.”


  1. The New York Subway: Its Construction and Equipment

Interborough Rapid Transit; Brian J. Cudahy

Fordham University Press, 2004

ISBN: 0823224015

Available from

“First published in October 1904 by the Interborough Rapid Transit Corporation, the company that built New York’s first underground railway, this unique facsimile edition is a lavishly illustrated guide to one of the century’s greatest engineering feats. Here in twelve detailed chapters, are the routes, stations, and tracks, the rolling stock, signal systems, and electric supply stations of the new subway that ran under the streets of Manhattan and the Bronx. Beautifully reproduced photographs, maps, line drawings, and other illustrations complement the text, written by the IRT’s own engineers. It covers the construction methods, architecture, station and rolling stock design, and the political groups responsible for the creation of New York City’s first subway. An online version is available: The New York Subway: Its Construction and Equipment (1904).”

The Future of Wikipedia

Wikipedia’s “completely chaotic model” of content development may be both the website’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. The crowdsourcing method of information gathering—like “citizen journalism”[1]—relies on ordinary “non-expert” people sharing their knowledge. It’s wildly democratic, but also wildly uncontrolled. As Virginia Postrel writes in “Who Killed Wikipedia?,” Wikipedia’s “very existence is something of a miracle.” With millions of entries, in hundreds of languages, edited by thousands of volunteers—the exact numbers vary depending on which source one selects—Wikipedia is the most popular source of information in the world. But what happens if the volunteers lose interest? Can Wikipedia, as Andrew Lih asks, survive?

In my opinion, the answer is yes: the amount of information already available on the site is enormous and invaluable. It might not expand as rapidly in the future as it has in the past—many topics are already thoroughly explored and the articles can stand as written—but the reports of its death are exaggerated. In a sense, it may be not too big, but too open to fail. Someone, many someones, will step in to save it.

That said, I do think Wikipedia is going to have to make some changes in its structure and processes. Here are just a few:

  • The organizational culture is rigid and insular. As Postrel argues, it’s “a culture that worked brilliantly until it devolved from dynamism to sclerosis.”
  • Smartphones, as Lih points out, have been overtaking laptop and desktop computers, and Wikipedia is hard to edit on phone screens. Better editing software and mobile phone hardware will have to be developed.[2]
  • The coverage is skewed, reflecting the interests and obsessions of the editors: “its entries on Pokemon and female porn stars are comprehensive, but its pages on female novelists or places in sub-Saharan Africa are sketchy.”[3]
  • It’s too easy for editors to slip in misinformation and even hoaxes,[4] including the famous charge that journalist John Siegenthaler had been a suspect in the assassinations of both President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy.[5]
  • Wikipedia is demonstrably sexist. As The New York Times noted in 2011, fewer than 15 percent of the site’s hundreds of thousands of contributors are women.[6] And as the novelist Amanda Filipacchi noted in 2013, also in the Times, Wikipedia editors had been moving American women writers out of the category “American Novelists” and into a new subcategory, “American Women Novelists,”[7] making “American Novelists” all male.
  • The editors sometimes operate like a gang, retaliating against perceived “enemies.” As soon as Filipacchi published her complaint, editors—in a process the online magazine Salon called “revenge editing”[8]—pounced on the page about her, erasing much of the content and most of the links.

None of this means that Wikipedia is dying: I—and millions of other people worldwide—love the site, at least as a starting point for research. But it may mean that its “completely chaotic model” needs to become not quite completely chaotic. As NPR argued in 2012, “what Wikipedia really needs today is more administrators—discerning editors to keep the collaborative encyclopedia that anyone can edit a reliable source without errors.”[9] We need both the many cacophonous voices of citizen journalism and the professional editors of The New York Times.

Wikipedia is an unruly teenager today. It’s alive and well—but it may have to grow up.


[1] See Jay Rosen, PressThink, “A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism,” 14 July 2008;

[2] Sarah Silbert, “You Can Now Edit Articles, View Random Pages on the Android Wikipedia App,” engadget, 25 June 2014;

[3] Tom Simonite, “The Decline of Wikipedia,” MIT Technology Review, 22 October 2013;

[4] Jon Brodkin, “The 10 Biggest Hoaxes in Wikipedia’s First 10 Years,” Network World, 14 January 2011;

[5]Katharine Q. Seelye, “Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar,” The New York Times, 4 December 2005;

[6] Noam Cohen, “Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List,” The New York Times, 30 January 2011;

[7] Amanda Filipacchi, “Wikipedia’s Sexism Toward Female Novelists,” The New York Times, 24 April 2013;

[8] Andrew Leonard, “Wikipedia’s Shame,” Salon, 29 April 2013;

[9] Hansi Lo Wang, “As Wikipedia Gets Pickier, Editors Become Harder to Find,” all tech considered, NPR, 19 July 2012;


Pre-Site Reflection

I live in Manhattan and have never visited the Farragut Houses in Vinegar Hill before. I’ve been past the Navy Yards, but am most familiar with the parts of Brooklyn around City Tech. From previous research, I do have some information about transportation in the area. I know there were several trolley lines as well as several elevated train lines in that area before the projects were built. But though I know about trains, I know very little about the area on the ground. I know above and below it—but on it, almost nothing. I have never lived in any projects, but the projects on Avenues C and D in Manhattan are not far from my home in Stuyvesant Town. They are not very highly spoken of, but many students in my middle school lived there and some of them of them were really great. Some weren’t, of course, but that’s true everywhere. I assume the people living in the Farragut Houses are as nice, and as not nice, as people everywhere else.

I’m excited to see this area on the ground and see if it matches up with my assumptions about it. I’m not nervous at all. I might be nervous if I was exploring this area all alone in the middle of the night, but in the daytime with a group –there’s nothing at all to worry about.

I’m a New York City kid and love discovering new neighborhoods. I’m looking forward to this trip.

(Sorry–I thought this posted last week!  I guess I hit “save draft” instead of “publish.”)