Controller handle, 1904, Silver, steel, ebony, New-York Historical Society, Gift of George B. McClellan, 1922.103
Imagine you’re charged with taking a subway for a ride. Now imagine that subway was the first subway ever. A pretty daunting task! Mayor George B. McClellan had the honor of operating the first NYC subway train on October 27, 1904, and was pretty excited about it!
The IRT had just opened, and McClellan was supposed to start the train from the City Hall Station. After that, he was to hand the controls to the IRT motorman. However, he was having so much fun that he refused to give up the controls, and steered the train all the way to the 103rd Street station in Harlem! From the New York Times, October 28, 1904:
Eventually the Mayor relinquished the controller, and the train made it from City Hall Station to 146th Street in twenty-six minutes flat! Unfortunately, workmen were also quick to start placing ads in the subway stations. “It was noticed when the train had come down as far as Forty-second Street that workmen were beginning to place big framed advertisements along the floors of each station. . . .The car advertisements have been in place for some time, but until then the stations had depended upon their beautiful mural ornamentation for decoration. Everybody in the train was expressing regret that the fine appearance of things was to be marred.”
The New-York Historical Society was gifted the silver controller of the first train by Mayor McClellan. It is inscribed with “Controller used by the Hon. George B. McClellan, Mayor of the City of New York, in starting the first train on the Rapid Transit Railroad from the City Hall station, New York, Thursday, Oct. 27, 1904. Presented to the Hon. George B. McClellan by August Belmont, President of the Interborough Rapid Transit Company.”
The silver controller is currently on view in A Brief History of New York: Selections from A History of New York in 101 Objects.