Before New York State took over all New York City bus, trolley, and subway operations on June 15, 1953, the subway was controlled by private companies. The Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) was the first to roll out an underground subway line in Manhattan on October 27, 1904, operating rails between City Hall and 145th Street.
Frank Hedley (1864-1955), the first general manager of the IRT, helped engineer and implement many of the subway services we still use today, including automatic doors. Hedley spent his entire career with the IRT, eventually rising to president of the organization. He was committed to bringing quality and efficiency to all New York City subway riders, and addressed even the smallest issues.
The IRT had been running for just two months when Hedley received a complaint letter from one Mr. S. Schwartz regarding an incident that took place on the platform of the subway station at 110th Street and Lenox Avenue. On December 5, 1904, at around 10:30 a.m., just as Schwartz purchased a ticket (this was long before the days of tokens, let alone Metro cards!) a gust of wind blew it from the cashier’s desk down to the tracks. Although the ticket agent witnessed this, he refused to let Schwartz pass unless he paid an additional five-cent fare. Schwartz claimed not to care about losing the money, but felt he had been treated poorly and expected an apology. He was so adamant about receiving one that he enclosed a stamp to guarantee a response.
Hedley wrote back the very next day. In his haste, he got the location wrong–11th Street instead of 110th Street. Nevertheless, he understood the importance of keeping subway patrons happy. He apologized to Mr. Schwartz for the unpleasant experience, promised to discipline the ticket agent, and even returned the five cents.
This post is by Elizabeth Vitek, American Historical Manuscript Collection Cataloger.
Cataloging of the American Historical Manuscript Collection (AHMC), a group of 12,000 small and unique manuscript collections, is made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, and the Pine Tree Foundation of New York.