This month, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority closed overnight service for the New York City subway system for the first time in more than 100 years. In an opinion piece this week in the New York Daily News, Clifton Hood, the George E. Paulsen ’49 Professor of American History and Government, explores the legacy of overnight transit service in the city and how it “gave rise to the fast pace and dynamism that define the city.”
An expert on the city’s subway system, Hood explains in the article “How overnight transit service helped make NYC” and that 24-hour service preceded the subway itself by several decades. In the 1830s, New Yorkers were ferried across the Hudson River to a summer resort in Hoboken, N.J., “that could handle up to 20,000 people and became notorious for carousing that lasted until dawn,” Hood writes. “From spring through fall, night boats left Barclay St. in lower Manhattan on the hour and returned from Hoboken on the half-hour. Crossings took eight to 10 minutes and continued all night.”
Throughout the 1800s, the increasing prevalence of these ferries “established all-night service as a norm that New Yorkers came to expect from other forms of transit. Few people paid much attention in 1881 when the Third Ave. elevated railway announced the beginning of all-night operations. But when another elevated company decided two years later that night service ‘don’t pay’ and discontinued it, public indignation forced management to back down.”
“By the time the subways opened after the turn of the century and started overnight service, it had become so routine that its extension to the subway went almost unnoticed. We can expect considerably more enthusiasm when the MTA resumes its usual schedule and night in the city returns to normal,” Hood concludes.
Hood is the author of 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York and 2016’s acclaimed In Pursuit of Privilege: A History of New York City’s Upper Class and the Making of a Metropolis. Currently working on a third book examining imposters in the United States as a whole, he has delivered dozens of papers and presentations at international conferences, and his writing and scholarship has been published in leading scholarly journals and national periodicals. He is also doing preliminary work on an upcoming fourth book that will explore the relationship between industrial and post-industrial Pittsburgh; Hood is a native of a steel town outside of Pittsburgh.
A member of the HWS faculty since 1992, Hood teaches a range of courses exploring American urban history, environmental history, elites in America, and U.S. ethnicity and immigration. He holds a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from Washington University and a master’s and doctorate from Columbia University. He served as senior Fulbright Lecturer in Seoul National University in South Korea.