Our current subway system, an amalgamation of the old privately owned Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT), the Brooklyn Manhattan Transit Company (BMT), and the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT), was not the first incarnation of subterranean transit the City has seen. In 1870, 34 years before the IRT first opened with the City Hall station in 1904, inventor Alfred Ely Beach created a subway line with a single car that ran on compressed air, dubbed the Beach Pneumatic Transit.
Alfred Ely Beach, inventor and editor of Scientific American, had designed a pneumatic (air-driven) system which he demonstrated at the American Institute Fair in 1867, and he thought it viable for transit operation in underground tunnels. He applied for a permit from the Tammany Hall city government, and after being denied, decided to build the line in secrecy, in an attempt to show that subterranean transit was practical. (He actually did receive a permit to built a pneumatic package delivery system, originally of two small tunnels from Warren St. to Cedar St., later amended to be one large tunnel, to “simplify construction” of what he really intended to build.)