story of the subway is the story of New York City. It is a story
of powerful characters -- crooks and heroes, men of great vision
and social conscience, as well as men whose vision went only
as far as their own pockets. It is the story of how these entrepreneurs,
politicians, social reformers, schemers and dreamers, with diverse
motives, and acting in the context of a rapidly changing metropolis,
produced a revolutionary system of public transportation.
River of Steel begins in the mid-1800's when the need
for rapid mass transit was becoming critical. The film examines
the first experiments with underground transportation, including
the construction of a 312-foot pneumatic subway built in complete
secrecy at the foot of City Hall. It tells of the wheeling and
dealing that finally lead to ground-breaking for the IRT in 1900,
continued with four hard years of digging and construction by
20,000 immigrant laborers, and culminated in the city-wide celebrations
on opening day in 1904.
The story is told through remarkable archival film footage and photographs taken
between the mid-1800's and 1905, including selections from over 60,000 early
transit photographs available from the collections of the New York Historical
Society, the New York Public Library, the Museum of the City of New York, the
Library of Congress, and the New York City Transit Museum. Early film footage
of New York at the turn of the century includes scenes of subway construction
produced by Thomas Edison and shot by Edwin S. Porter.
As cities today struggle with the effects of crumbling infrastructures -- the
disintegration of bridges and highways -- civic authorities struggle to maintain
the level of vital services which sustain our economic and cultural life. At
this time it becomes particularly important to look to the history of our great
public works. River of Steel is a reminder of how one of this country's
great civil engineering projects was born and nurtured, and the role it played
in turning New York City into one of the greatest cities in America and the world.
River of Steel was produced and directed by Kerry Michaels
and Stuart Math, and features narration by Anne Jackson and original
music by Patrice Rushen.