July 25, 1953
Tokens were first sold as fare for New York City’s subway system. They were a response to a large-scale technical challenge facing the system. The New York City Transit Authority (TA) opened for business that year to oversee the city’s extensive public transportation operations, and the debut of the agency was accompanied by a fare increase to 15 cents. The city’s subway fare had been five cents starting in 1904 and then was increased to 10 cents in 1948. The 1953 5-cent increase posed a potential problem for the turnstiles in all the stations since those devices — in place since the early 1920s — could handle only single-coin transactions for each passenger. The solution involved creating tokens equivalent to 15 cents.
Louis A. Schineller, a TA employee who worked for the agency’s Maintenance of Way Department, ultimately came up with the design for the new dime-sized token. 48 million of them were minted for sale. Solid versions of the token were originally made available until the now-famous brass 0.6-inch (16-millimeter) coin featuring a cut-out of the letter Y in “NYC” was produced instead for public use.
For the next half-century, that token – even in the course of additional changes in design and fares – would remain the coin of the realm for the New York City’s subway universe. The token took on an iconic status, not just for one of the world’s oldest, largest, and busiest rapid mass transit systems but also the city that it served. In 2003, tokens were phased out in favor of MetroCards. The tokens, however, remain highly cherished nostalgic treasures and are still sold by the TA’s Transit Museum as cufflinks and key rings.
For more information on the New York City Subway System (including its ridership fares), please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Subway.