Though you and I are only familiar with a single MTA map, dozens of other maps have attempted to make the NYC subway, er, reasonably comprehensive over the years. It’s hard to imagine that the 1, 2, and 3 lines weren’t always red, or that the L was once known as the “16 Line,” which is what makes these old maps so fun to peruse.
The subway map we all know today is loosely based on a famous 1972 design by Massimo Vignelli, an Italian-American designer whose gem-colored diagram eschewed geographical honesty for visual clarity. At the time, Vignelli’s elegant Modernist diagram pissed a lot of New Yorkers off. “A lot of people love it,” he said thirty years later. “And a lot of people hate it, too, by the way.” Eventually, the map was replaced with the slightly more realistic version we know today. But Vignelli’s Helvetic-swathed iconography still graces everything from shirts and mugs to tattoos and children’s books.