Serendipity and the history of subway maps
Sometimes historical research relies on chance connections and discoveries. And lucky discoveries sometimes help to explain several different historical puzzles. One such serendipitous connection happened to me recently. At the map event at the New York Transit Museum on November 17, I made an exciting connection that gives a new line of inquiry into the genesis of the Hagstrom subway map, and provides possible clues to the IND subway map and the Salomon subway map.
Who drew the Hagstrom subway maps?
At the Museum’s map evening, Mark Ovenden, Eddie Jabbour, and I were giving illustrated talks on different aspects of transit maps, and I was exhibiting a selection of maps from my personal collection (alongside some unique items from the Museum). In this talk, I happened to show the following zoomed-in details of the 1936 Hagstrom map, showing the quirky drawings of bridges and tunnels. (According to John Landers, this is the first edition of this style of Hagstrom subway map, although I know there were black-and-white editions in the 1920s.)
After the presentations, we were all milling around chatting and talking about the maps on display, and I was approached by someone named Larry Scheyer, who told me that his grandfather had drawn those Hagstrom maps .
I have been trying for some years to get a handle on the genesis of the Hagstrom subway map. But after the death of Andrew G. Hagstrom in 1977 and the company’s takeover by Langenscheidt in 1981 and by Kappa in 2010, the archives of the original company have essentially disappeared. So I was very pleased to meet Mr Scheyer.
About Emanuel Scheyer
Emanuel Scheyer was born in New York on September 8, 1884. He attended City College and was awarded a degree in civil engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1907. While in San Francisco, he witnessed the Great Earthquake and Fire of San Francisco in 1906 , which motivated him to become a civil engineer . He taught physics there briefly. The following year, he moved back to New York and worked as an Engineering Draftsman for the Office of the State Engineer and Surveyor for a few months, and then worked for the New York State Public Services Commission (PSC) from 1908 to the 1920s, as a designer of subway and elevated railroads. Some time in the 1920s he transferred to the City Board of Transportation (BoT). It is known that Scheyer worked on the IND system, and we can reasonably assume that his move from the PSC to the BoT was to allow him to work on the early plans for the wholly new Independent Subway System (later known as the IND), which were developed by the NYC Transit Commission from 1921 onwards. He remained with the Board until the subways were transferred from the BoT to the Transit Authority (TA) in 1953. One of his last engineering projects was to help design the conversion to subway use of the old LIRR to the Rockaways, which had been burnt down in 1950. The City bought the line from the LIRR in 1950 and reopened it as an extension of the IND network in June 1956. Scheyer’s final job title (as of July 1954) was Division Engineer for Design  and he retired in 1955 at the age of 71, and died in 1973, aged 88 .
Emanuel Scheyer and the Hagstrom map
Most of the above biography can be gleaned from the Census reports and the obituary in the New York Times. What is more interesting is what I learned from Emanuel’s grandson Lawrence (and, through Larry, from Emanuel’s son, Daniel). As part of Emanuel’s work for the BoT (and possibly even for the PSC), he provided the Hagstrom Map Company with a map of the collective subway network. During these years, the IRT, BMT and IND were rivals and their corporate maps showed only their own lines. The BoT had oversight of the City’s transportation system (besides opening up its own IND line from 1932) so it was natural for the BoT to take the lead on this. It was Emanuel Scheyer who inserted in the Hagstrom map the tiny illustrations of trains and trucks in the bridges and tunnels and the ferry boats, as well as more practical features such as the thin lines indicating cross-streets. The earliest of the new style of subway maps issued by Hagstrom was published in 1936. Before that Hagstrom had since 1916 produced street maps that included subway lines, but the new subway maps showed the transit system abstracted from the mass of streets and other topographical detail and included only a few cross streets and landmarks.
When the Board of Transportation used the Hagstrom map as its official map from 1943 to 1956, Scheyer provided the relevant liaison.
Emanuel Scheyer and the IND subway map?
Given that Emanuel Scheyer was involved in the early design of the IND system, and given his mapping experience with Hagstrom, we can speculate that he might have been involved in the the innovative maps of the IND subway (also known initially as the Eighth Avenue Subway), such as these:
Emanuel Scheyer and the map after Hagstrom’s?
In the Transit Museum Archives last year, I came across an interesting memo, dated July 1952, from William Jerome Daly, (BoT Secretary) to James Griffin (BoT Chief Engineer) in which he laments that the Board does not have a map of its own and is entirely reliant on buying stocks of maps from Hagstrom, even though they are based on information supplied by the Board. Daly ends thus: “it is suggested that a tracing of the rapid transit lines of the New York City Transit System be prepared and kept up to date so that the Board will not be at mercy and monopoly of a private map maker. The three subway divisions could be shown by distinguishing lines or some other symbol which I am sure that Mr Scheyer is thoroughly qualified to work out.” Did Mr Scheyer even begin this task before his retirement in 1955? If he did, was this internal map connected with the Route and Section Map? (The earliest such map I have seen is from 1961, but there may be earlier ones.)
Emanuel Scheyer and the Salomon map
In 1937, George Salomon emigrated from Germany to the USA and, in 1940, he moved to New York. Straight away he started jotting down his ideas for an improved map and wayfinding system for the New York Subway. In 1955, however, his work intensified and he began dedicating all of his evenings and weekends to this project. That year and the next he produced detailed prospectuses for the TA and, in September 1956 he was commissioned to design a new subway map, which in 1958 was to replace the Hagstrom map that the TA had been relying on. But … why did Salomon wait fifteen years before diving into his wayfinding project so intensely and making his pitch to the TA? At first, I thought it was because the Transit Authority, which took over from the Board of Transportation in 1953, and which was supposed to run the subway in a businesslike way, wanted to stop buying in Hagstrom’s map and make its own, and accordingly opened its door to a freelance who could create the TA’s first in-house map. But Jerome Daly’s memo of 1952 shows that the Board was already looking at a new map to replace Hagstrom’s map before the Transit Authority had even been created. So what triggered Salomon’s sudden activity in 1955?
Could it be coincidence that Salomon got going on his new designs in the year of retirement of Scheyer, the Authority’s go-to man for subway map design? We know that in 1954 Salomon designed the in-house magazine, Transit, so Salomon was certainly in touch with the design community within the TA. Three possibilities come to mind: First, Scheyer knew he was on his way out but wanted to start the process of creating a new map, so he made contact with Salomon. Second, Salomon heard through his contacts at the TA, or read in the press, that Scheyer was retiring and therefore stepped up with his proposals. Third, Scheyer, who presumably favoured the Hagstrom map that he himself had drawn, had blocked any move away from the TA’s use of the Hagstrom subway product as its official map. As soon as Scheyer left, the TA stopped using the Hagstrom map and hired a freelancer named George Salomon. Until more evidence comes to light, though, we have nothing but speculation on this point.
Emanuel Scheyer’s other work
By the way, Emanuel Scheyer has a lot more to his credit than the the Hagstrom subway map. Over his fifty-year career in transit design, he published a number of technical articles [e.g. 3] and letters to the press [e.g. 4]. He was chosen to be a charter member of the University of California’s Tau Beta Pi (the Engineering honor society, equivalent to the Literary Phi Beta Kappa or Scientific Sigma Xi), and he wore the gold Tau Beta Pi key every day as a pendant from a chain, and used it to keep his necktie in place in lieu of a tie pin .
- While designing the IND subway, he created ‘flying junctions’, which allow trains to switch tracks without hazardous and time-wasting at-grade crossings.
- Against conservative resistance, he introduced arc welding to replace riveting for holding together and strengthening weight-bearing structural steel components.
- Patented at least ten inventions .
- Larry believes that his grandfather reduced or stopped his map-related activity in the 1950s in order to focus on the Rockaways subway. In his designs for this extension of the IND, Emanuel stipulated that it be built on a causeway founded on thousands of wooden piles driven into the mud of Jamaica Bay to make it secure  (in contrast to the LIRR trestles that burnt down), which served well until Hurricane Sandy. It was because of this huge project sponsored by Robert Moses (Moses’ only subway construction, I believe) that Scheyer was allowed to continue working beyond the then mandatory retirement age of 70 . (BTW, Larry writes of the LIRR fire of May 8, 1950: “Emanuel told me the fire happened because someone flicked a burning cigarette out an open train window, and it landed not in the water, but on the highly-flammable creosote-soaked pilings and ignited 1,800 linear feet of trestle.”)
Further research is required to follow up these leads on the history of the Hagstrom subway map, but it is good that I now have some specifics to work on. If anyone out there happens to have further information about Emanuel Scheyer then I would love to hear from you!
 New York Times, July 23, 1954, “Brooklyn Water Table Oozing Up”.
 New York Times, September 25, 1973, “Obituary: Emanuel Scheyer, Ex-Transit Aide, 88”
 Scientific American, December 1922, “When Perforated Paper Goes to Work. How Strips of Paper Can Endow Inanimate Machines with Brains of Their Own”
 New York Times, February 11, 1913, letter about elevator doors.
 Patent US 1172058 A, “Automatically Controlled Mechanism” (the Kinautograph), filed December 16, 1912, granted February 15, 1916. Patent US1172059 A, “Automatically controlled Mechanism”, filed March 13, 1913, granted February 15, 1916. Patent US1344611 A, “Embroidering Machine”, with Albert Bersin, filed March 6, 1916, granted June 29, 1920. Patent US2357851A, “Heat Reflective Material”, filed December 11, 1940, granted September 12, 1944. Patent US2357851A, “Heat Reflective Material”, filed December 11, 1940, granted September 12, 1944. Patent US2382583 A, “Structural section for flexible welded connections”, filed September 16, 1943, granted August 14, 1945. Patent USRE22905 E, “Flexible welded structural connection”, filed August 14, 1945, granted August 12, 1947. Patent US30605522, “Heat Reflective Filament”, filed July 9, 1953, granted October 30, 1962. US3002252 A, “Method of Producing Heat Reflective Fabric”, filed Jul 9, 1953, granted October 3, 1961. Patent US3038234, “Heat Reflective Fabric”, filed July 9, 1953. granted June 12, 1962.
 New York Times, September 1, 1955, “Head of City System Leaving Oct. 1 for Private Practice”, by Peter Kihss. [Mentions mandatory retirement age in passing.]
 Email from Lawrence Scheyer, December 8, 2015.
 Email from Lawrence Scheyer, December 7, 2015.