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How the world's first metro system was built - Christian Wolmar


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It was the dawn of 1863, and London's not-yet-opened subway system — the first of its kind in the world — had the city in an uproar. Most people thought the project, which cost more than 100 million dollars in today's money, would never work. So how did they do it? Christian Wolmar explains how the London Underground was built at a time when no one had built a railway under a city before.

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The building of subway systems, often known as metros, should be viewed in the wider context of the development of railroads across the world. The first lines, including the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in the UK and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in the United States, were developed in 1830. Within a few years, many other nations followed suit.

Until then, no one had traveled faster than a galloping horse. Now, whole states—and nations—could be crossed in less than a day. The changes this brought about affected every aspect of life in the second half of the 19th century. On an economic level, industries grew into much larger enterprises. On a social and cultural level, people were now able to travel long distances for vacation. The railways ruled the world for about a century until they were displaced by the motor car and, later, the airplane. But they still play a vital role in the 21st century, such as carrying a large proportion of America’s freight, which continues to help cities function efficiently.

To learn more about the London Underground, check out the Subterranean Railway, written by the educator. Other publications about the evolution of transportations systems include Blood, Iron, and Gold and The Great Railroad Revolution.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Christian Wolmar
  • Director Biljana Labović
  • Script Editor Dan Kwartler
  • Animator Inna Phillimore
  • Designer Inna Phillimore
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott, Elizabeth Cox
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Fact-Checker Francisco Diez

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