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Interpreting the Evidence

Pennsylvania Station, New York City, 1938

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    The Great Depression and WW II (1929 - 1945)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    New York City
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Pennsylvania Station, New York City, 1938 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
The waiting room at Pennsylvania Station in New York City, July 1938
Historical Context
New York’s Penn Station opened as the world’s largest train station on November 27, 1910.  It surpassed its rival, Grand Central Station, which was owned by the New York Central Railroad. Penn Station, named for the Pennsylvania Railroad, was the accomplishment of the railroad’s president, Alexander Cassatt.  Before its completion, passengers who rode the Pennsylvania Railroad had to be ferried across the Hudson River to reach Manhattan.  The building of Penn Station was an innovation of the time because two single-track tunnels were dug under the Hudson River.

When it was completed, Penn Station was considered one of the architectural achievements of New York City.  The original structure was constructed of pink granite and included numerous colonnades, glass and steel train sheds, and a huge entrance to the city.  The waiting room was the largest indoor space in New York City, and its design was inspired by the Roman baths.  With the passage of time, the maintenance of the upper level was not cost-efficient.  Along with the fact that the Pennsylvania Railroad was losing money, the above-ground station was demolished in 1960.  Madison Square Garden was built in its place.

Essential Question
How does the availability of transportation affect the economic and cultural aspects of a society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the impact of this technology on the local communities.
Historical Challenges
Create a diorama of Penn Station that displays the cross-section of the underground tracks.
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a letter as if you were a ferry company owner and you were protesting the building of Penn Station.