You are here

December 14, 2013 to October 12, 2014


New York Transit Museum
Corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street
New York  New York  11201
United States
is 718-694-1600
New York Transit Museum

Anatomy of a Powerhouse: Electrifying the El

The New York Transit Museum’s newest exhibition, Anatomy of a Powerhouse: Electrifying the El, showcases the construction and early operations of the 74th Street Powerhouse in 31 impressive black and white photographs from the Museum’s archival collection. This exhibition will run through October 12, 2014 as a companion exhibit to ElectriCity: Powering New York’s Rails. At the turn of the twentieth century, the powerhouse enabled the transition from steam locomotives to cleaner electric trains, fundamentally improving conditions in the city. Before the switch, smoke, cinders and soot from steam-powered elevated trains plagued Manhattan, blackening the air and dirtying the streets. With the opening of the Manhattan Railway Company’s 74th Street Powerhouse in 1902, those irksome steam engines soon became a thing of the past. This exhibition celebrates the massive building and powerful machinery that without fanfare revolutionized elevated transit in New York City.

The 74th Street Powerhouse was designed by engineer George H. Pegram to provide electricity for elevated lines on Second, Third, Sixth and Ninth Avenues. Construction started in 1900 and by 1902, the power plant was operating as the largest alternating current (AC) power station the world had ever seen. By June 25, 1903, all of Manhattan’s elevated lines had been electrified. Over 6,000 tons of steel and iron were used to construct the skeletal frame for the building, and inside, massive machinery lined the floor from wall to wall in a space that extended 100 feet longer than a football field. This series of photographs reveals the staggering scale of the powerhouse, offering a rare glimpse into early transit history in New York and the immense power required to move Manhattan’s entire elevated railway system.

Guided tours of the exhibition in Downtown Brooklyn will be offered free with Museum admission on Sunday, January 26 and Saturday, February 8 at 2pm. The tours will be led by the exhibition’s curator, Archive Technician Desiree Alden.