January 1,1863 Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. January 9 saw the ceremonial opening of the first part of what was to become the London Underground. I suppose it was a case of one underground railroad becoming redundant and another taking its place.
The Metropolitan Railway opened to the public on January 10 but the evening before some 500 VIPs made a stately progress between Paddington and Farringdon, stopping to admire each of the new stations on the three and a half mile journey. The next day, the steam trains took 18 minutes instead of two and a half hours!
More railway companies were to open lines under London and these were not to be unified under the name London Underground until 1908. By then the "Compagnie du chemin de fer métropolitain" had opened its first line in Paris. The Métropolitain or simply Métro was to pass the name on to many mostly underground rail systems in many countries. London however almost uniquely has an Underground and no other has "the Tube". The constituent companies continued under their own names (and are reflected in some of the names of the "lines" today). The most profound effect the Metropolitan Railway had was in the immediate post WWI period when the land it retained after extending the line into NW London was used for housing development. These new suburbs in Metroland were to prove a model for later development of housing in SE England. A new railway line encourages development rather simply linking existing conurbations. The latest example of this is perhaps Ebbsfleet to the SE of London where the Channel Tunnel Rail link (now High Speed 1) has a station. The company developing the old Battersea power station into a leisure and housing complex are to part fund an extension to the Northern Line to serve it.
The branding of the different companies in 1908 saw the birth of the iconic symbol of the Underground and of all London transport systems, the roundel. Originally the red circle was solid rather like this:
1933 saw the introduction of perhaps the most valuable contribution the Tube has made to many transit systems. Harry Beck, an electrical engineer, realized that there was no need to show the railways in relation to the above ground geography, only to each other. Instead of the lines curving to follow the landscape, he simplified the map to straight lines; horizontal, vertical and 45 degrees. This sitehas examples of most of the maps published before and after. Today's map (.pdf) follows Harry's principles. (The sharp eyed among you might notice the "Emirates Air Line" on the east of the map. This is not a rail line but a cable car connection between the O2 - a.k.a. the Millenium Dome - with the Excel exhibition center.) The elegance of Beck's solution becomes apparent if you compare it with the New York subway map which still attempts to relate to surface features like Central Park. In contrast, the Washington metro system uses Beck's principles of straight lines.
The expansion work on the system continues to cope with the congestion that is the Tube's main drawback in rush hours. Europe's largest construction project is now the building of Crossrail which will pass under London from West to East. One station, Tottenham Court Road, will be a major interchange with two other lines and the whole redevelopment and new build will cost over US$1.5 billion.