Although initiatives to place both trains and cables underground had been proposed earlier, the blizzard of 1888 gave the idea momentum. The mid-March blizzard dumped 40 inches on the city in a mere 36 hours and left 200 dead. Howling winds blew down street signs, lampposts, and ornaments. Snowdrifts of up to 50 feet buried homes and animals, halted all public transport and mail delivery, and lead to shortages of coal and fresh produce. The wiring of the city was a casualty of the storm. Telegraph, telephone, and electricity wires were snapped by the high winds, effectively isolating New York from the rest of the country and the world. The communication networks that were the backbone of the local economy were gone.
It did not take long for the city and the private companies supplying telecom and energy services to agree to relocate the wiring underground for telegraph, telephone, fire alarm, and “street illuminations” cabling. Within just a few years, overhead wires had disappeared from sight—vastly increasing the reliability of the communications and power networks supporting the city, and improving the appearance of city streets. KA