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New Yorkers campaign for the Second Avenue Subway in 1923 in this vintage photo

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The Second Avenue Subway is finally a reality, but it took decades of campaigning

Inscription painted on the side of the float: "THE PRESENT CONDITION OF TRAVEL ON THE LEXINGTON AVENUE SUBWAY." The float was created by the Yorkville Chamber of Commerce for the N.Y.C. Silver Jubilee Parade, June 1923.
Flickr/Michael Miscione/All Rights Reserved

To many New Yorkers’ great surprise, the MTA started 2017 by getting the century-in-the-making Second Avenue Subway up and running. Despite reassurance from Governor Cuomo that the project wouldn’t be further delayed, many subscribed to a “I’ll believe it when I see” it attitude. But the MTA kept good on its word and opened on New Year’s Day—“on time,” by its own timetable, but overdue by nearly 100 years nonetheless.

Local officials and members of the press were privy to an inaugural ride on New Year’s Eve, and among the guests was the Manhattan Borough Historian, Michael Miscione. After taking part in the rare experience, Miscione dropped some knowledge on the plight Manhattan residents went through to get the Second Avenue Subway built, sharing a photo from his personal collection and a little-known tale of a local business group called the Yorkville Chamber of Commerce:

A ticket for the Silver Jubilee Parade in 1923
Museum of the City of New York Digital Collection

In 1922, a local business group known as the Yorkville Chamber of Commerce sent a petition to Mayor Mike Hylan and the Board of Estimate that read, in part, “We have only one East Side subway – Lexington Avenue -- and trains on this line are overcrowded before they leave the Bronx on their way downtown in the morning. We need another trunk line subway running through the East Side.”

A less plucky group might have remained content with mere letters and petitions, but not the Yorkville Chamber of Commerce. The following year they participated in the Silver Jubilee Parade, a march down Fifth Avenue presided over by the mayor marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the consolidation of the five-borough city. It was intended to display the grandeur of New York City’s businesses and industries.

While film companies, department stores, and auto companies used the parade to showcase their latest commodities, the Yorkville Chamber of Commerce had a different agenda in mind. The group crafted a float that resembled an overcrowded subway car (pictured above) with the words “THE PRESENT CONDITION OF TRAVEL ON THE LEXINGTON AVENUE SUBWAY” inscribed on its side. Many people, including Mayor Hylan, found the float to be amusing.

The local organization evolved into what is now the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, and over the ensuing years, millions of New Yorkers suffered through the same frustrations of overcrowding on the Lexington Avenue line. But at long last, a new day is upon New York and the Second Avenue Subway is finally here—though whether or not it truly alleviates those crowds remains to be seen.