D.C. Subway is Predicted in 1941

Here is a fascinating article we dug up in the Washington Post from April 8th, 1941. At the time, only Boston, New York and Philadelphia had subways.

Of course, our country was thrown into World War II almost exactly eight months later (what happened in D.C. the day Pearl Harbor was attacked?), and we didn’t end up with our Metro for 35 more years.

Construction of a subway from the downtown area north between the Soldiers Home was predicted yesterday by Traffic Director William A. Van Duzer as a result of a report now being prepared on the District’s traffic engineering problem.

Speaking before the Dupont Circle Citizens Association in the Mayflower Hotel, Van Duzer said that 37 per cent of the Federal Government workers lived in the Park-Soldiers Home area and constituted the city’s greatest rush-hour traffic problem.

The report being prepared by his office is expected to be released in summary by May 1 and will form the basis of a master plan for future city development.

Unless steps such as the proposed subway are taken, the traffic situation will soon become “very serious,” the traffic director said: “More than 1,000 new Government workers are coming to Washington every month, and last year saw an increase of 14,000 automobiles here,” he stated.

It’s hard to believe that 37 percent of federal workers lived in that section of the city. I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of them live in Virginia and Maryland today.

- click image for more -
downtown Washington at F St. in 1942
downtown Washington at F St. in 1942

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  • firecoalman

    They were so concerned about the problem that they trashed the streetcar system right after the was and no subway would be started for another 25 years. The fact is the auto lobby in Congress opposed all public transport.

  • Based on what I saw happening on 9/11, I can definitely say a whole bunch of folks live in Virginia. At about noon that day, I was driving from Roslyn to Dupont Circle and I saw a mass of humanity trying to get out of town via the 14th Street Bridge.

    That was the day I realized I needed to really explore the different ways to get around the District. Within about 6 months, I could skip around most traffic congestion (most of the time) and knew how to go south to north quickly and, even more importantly, east to west (I lived near RFK and my best friends lived on Conn and Military — I found all sorts of shortcuts on my way to cook-outs and movies in NW).

  • DC Girl

    Wow, That’s Woodward & Lothrop there on the left. I used to go there when I was little and watch the moving Christmas window scenes. They were amazing back then. Everyone would look forward to the window display every year. I used to go there to shop with my grandmother, and we rode the streetcar there too. I really missed the streetcars when they took them out, and never really got over them removing them. I remember talking to my father about the fighting over what kind of system they were going to put in, they talked of a monorail system, subways and a mess of things. I always thought a monorail would have been the best, but the metro finally got it. No one I knew used it, we had moved to the suburbs by then. My family came from Washington’s very earliest years, and my grandfathers mother used to bake cakes for the “Capital Crew” as they called it back then.
    My father was born a block from the White House, and there was a bakery in a house on the corner of his street, it’s still there. Of course it’s been upgraded and there’s no sign of it ever being a place where everyone on Capital Hill got their bread. Deli’s and Bakeries were all in houses back then. I remember when every home in DC had rose bushes in their yards, and neighbors all knew each other. I remember huge, tall trees and parks with fountains that everyone went to all day long just to get cool in the heat of the summer. I remember sitting on the Capital lawn to have lunch. The best of all was eating at the S&W Cafeteria with my grandmother. The best food I ever ate, even to this day.
    Boy did this site bring back the memories. Thank you so much for sharing your photos. I just love them.
    Oh, and EVERYONE in DC used to grow a garden back then too. Washington really was a Family place, everyone knew everyone, no matter how far around DC you lived.
    Never locked a door either. What a place to grow up. Amazing.

  • Brick City

    Newark (NJ) also had a subway system, the “City Subway” was built with WPA funds in the 1930’s and operated by Public Service Corp, headquartered in downtown Newark. The City Subway is now served by light rail cars and is part of the NJ Transit rail system.

    • Rogue_Like

      Chicago’s subway was also well established by the ’40’s.

      • mldickens

        Chicago had the els but the subway section did not open until 1943.

  • SkorpioG

    I’m surprised DC was contemplating a subway in 1941. The city was tiny then…really a large town rather than a city. Large portions of DC were still wooded and rural in nature rather than the urbanized city we know today.

    I think Rochester, NY, had a “subway” in that their streetcars went into tunnels downtown and there were several “underground” stations, but it wasn’t a true rapid transit system like Boston, NYC, Philly and Chicago had. Perhaps this is what DC government was contemplating at the time? Bury the streetcar lines like they did at DuPont Circle along key intersections like K Street, Connecticut Avenue, and what was then the downtown core (Old City I and Old City II)?