January 9, 2013

The Tube at 150

Amazing as it seems, the London Underground is celebrating 150 years of operation this week. On its first day of operation, more than 40,000 people queued to get on the trains, and now more than one billion people ride it each year – and I think that they were all crammed onto my route to work when I lived there.imageOriginally, the technique for digging the tunnels was called “cut and cover” where the workers would dig the tunnel and then cover it back up. Later on, a tunneller was developed so that roads were not affected. Interestingly, much of the Tube runs under streets because if it went under buildings, there was a hefty fee to pay to the building owner.

imageThe iconic map of the Tube was developed in 1933 by Harry Beck, who was a draftsman for an electric company. He used his knowledge of electric circuits to make the map. It survives today with very few changes – only updates. However, if you lay the map over the existing lines, there’s very little correlation.image

Of course, who could leave well-enough alone? Not graphic designers, who’ve come up with some clever interpretations on the tube map.

All you need to know, really.


The classic roundel was first developed in 1908 and then refined from a solid red disc to a red circle. A typeface was commissioned to go along with the logo, and more than 100 years later, the classic image still stands, unchanged.image

As I was listening to the BBC in bed last night, there was someone talking about interesting facts about the Tube. image

  • During WWII, people sheltered in the Tube stations while London was being bombed.
  • With 2.7 million trips on the Tube each day, only three babies have been born on the Tube.
  • There are only two tube station names that contain all 5 vowels – ‘Mansion House’ and ‘South Ealing’.
  • Bank Station is the only stop with a name of one syllable.
  • Aldgate station (close to where I stayed in March!) is built on a massive plague pit, where more than 1,000 bodies were buried in 1665.
  • The phrase MIND THE GAP originated on the Northern line in 1968.
  • The oldest tube line in the world is the Metropolitan line, which opened on the 10th of January in 1863.
  • Almost 60% of the London Underground is actually above the ground and not underground

Happy 150th Birthday!


  1. The first thing I do, after taking the train from the airport into town, is purchase my Oyster card. That tiny piece of plastic has taken me on many memorable adventures.....k

  2. I heard there will be original steam trains going through the tube on Sunday!
    I used to take it all the time when I lived in London...many fond memories!

  3. I love your blog! this was a grand post! will send it to clients. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

  4. I love the map with "Posh Shops", "Big Ben" and "Hugh Grant". Perfect!


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