Shirley MacLaine rode the subway in 1964 to promote using the rails to attend the World's Fair. Photo by Henry Grossman/]/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images
In America’s most populous city, life teems not only on the streets, but below them as well. The New York City subway opened for business on October 27, 1904 and since then it has become more than a way to get around, but a place in which the city lives, standing clear of the closing doors, in chunks of a half-hour at a time (or longer, depending on delays).
It’s also a place where you can run into just about anyone—and not just the famous musicians who’ve been busking incognito with Jimmy Fallon in recent years. While the photos in this collection are heavy on famous faces, when pass through the turnstiles you are admittedly more likely to see commuters on the way to work, or school kids on the way to school, or a man with a parrot, or tourists on the way to one of the city’s unending list of attractions. A subway ride can contain its hardships (wi-fi is spotty at best, so bring a book), especially so if the machinery breaks down. But it’s also a way to beat the traffic, and as the photos show, noted New Yorkers such as John F. Kennedy Jr., Meryl Streep and Bernard F. Gimbel were not above going underground. They knew that this enduring monument to mass transit was a smart way to get where they were going.
Chess champion Bobby Fischer studied up on his game, 1962.