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Boston Subway: Topics in Chronicling America

In 1887, the Boston Subway becomes the first subway to open in the United States. This guide provides access to material related to the “Boston Subway” in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


"Boston's New Subway-Incline in the Public Garden." September 19, 1897. New-York Tribune (New York, NY), Page 8, Image 32. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

A stellar feat of technology, the Boston Subway, the first of its kind in the United States, brings about a new way of life to America. Accidents, explosions and death, however, also accompany the early days of Boston’s Underground Railroad. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


September 1, 1887 First segment of Boston Subway opens; first subway in U.S.
December 15, 1887 Boston Subway reported a failure.
March 4, 1897 Escaping gas in Boston Subway during construction creates havoc; many killed by explosion; half a hundred injured.
July 24, 1901 Boston Subway’s traffic impact noted to be causing social changes.
June 21, 1903 Boston’s historic landmarks obliterated by Boston Subway and other innovation.
October 27, 1904 New York Subway opens as biggest subway in the world; 2nd subway to open in the U.S.
December 1904 Boston Subway extends under harbor to East Boston; longest underwater railroad track in the world.
June 6, 1906 Fire and Explosion on the Boston Subway for unknown reason, women dragged to safety; high fear of electrocution.
December 10, 1910 John F. Donahue commits suicide by jumping in front of moving train.
June 17, 1912 Boston Subway workers go on strike for union recognition.
July 21, 1919 Subway workers strike for an eight-hour day and higher wages.
December 23, 1921 Main power line of Boston Subway explodes right during Christmas holiday.