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A Pictorial History of the London Tube and Its Graphic Legacy

Visual mementos celebrating 150 years since the birth of the world’s first underground railway system.

2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the London Tube, the world’s first subway system. While its map alone has been the subject of much creative interpretation and fascination, its complete story is — a whirlwind at the intersection of design, engineering, politics, urbanism, and social reform — remains somewhat poorly understood.

In Underground: How the Tube Shaped London (public library), David Bownes, former head curator at the London Transport Museum and current assistant director of collections at London’s National Army Museum, sets out to remedy this by tracing the evolution of the Tube as a technological breakthrough, a feat of design and engineering, and a powerful social force.

1863: The world’s first underground railway connects the mainline stations at Paddington, Euston, and King’s Cross with London’s central business district. This lithograph depicts one of the first trains approaching Baker Street Station on the Metropolitan Railway.
Image courtesy London Transport Museum
1890: The City & South London Railway, linking Stockwell to London via in-between points, opens to the public. In this next step of the Tube’s evolution, steam engines are replaced with electric trains, pictured in this view of a platform at Stockwell station.
Image courtesy London Transport Museum
1896: A platform at Victoria station, depicting the familiar railway newssand at its dawn
Image courtesy London Transport Museum
1905: Comic card from the District Railway, whose electric trains defied the underground’s reputation for slowness and unreliability, and taught passengers the new skill of ‘straphanging’ during rush hours
Image courtesy London Transport Museum
1916: Edward Johnston’s hand-drawn alphabet for the Underground
Image courtesy London Transport Museum
1925: Edward Johnston’s instructions for the correct proportions of the redesigned Underground bullseye to incorporate the new typeface
Image courtesy London Transport Museum
1938: Despite their comfortable interior that offered a major improvement over predecessors, stock cars, which entered service in 1937-1938, were also exceptionally durable and remained in circulation for decades
Image courtesy London Transport Museum

To mark the 150th anniversary, The London Transport Museum is also putting on an exhibition titled Poster Art 150: London Underground’s Greatest Designs, running until October 27. Here’s a taste:

Pair Underground: How the Tube Shaped London with the almost true story of New York’s subway Helvetica.

It’s Nice That The Guardian

Published February 27, 2013




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