PBS American Experience: The Race Underground – Testing the First Electric S ubway Motor


Untapped Cities
Published on Jan 25, 2017

The Race Underground traces the transformative ideas of 29-year old American naval officer, Frank Sprague, who envisioned a subway system that would run on electric power instead of the coal of the London Underground. Sprague was primed for the role, having worked initially with Thomas Edison after naval service. He launched a venture under his name, the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company, and looked for investors among the Gilded Age barons of the time. On a short track in on an alley between two brick buildings near the Durant Sugar Factory off East 24th Street near the East River, Sprague met Jay Gould to give a test run. Sprague puts Gould at the front of a flatbed train car as a showman’s move, giving the industrialist a literal front row seat. But Sprague became “a little overzealous,” says Doug Most, the author of The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America’s First Subway in which the documentary is partly based on.

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