The sophisticated and uniquely American system of "subway tile" that became the national standard for all U.S. tile manufacturers.
The original story about “subway tile” begins in the late 1800’s with the advent of indoor plumbing and a demand for sanitary surfaces in the home. A sophisticated and precise system of ceramic tilework evolved rapidly in England and America, such that by 1904 the NYC’s first subway stations featured these clean, glossy white tile surfaces as an exemplar of modernity. Check-out “Remnants of 1904 Union Square Subway Station Hidden in Plain Sight” to see how the MTA is preserving this tile heritage.
Our story begins a century later, when the Subway Ceramics collection was introduced as the first complete and historically authentic American heritage tile collection since the depression. The distinctively flat surface, pencil-thin grout lines, soft rounded corner trims and integrated ceramic accessories are a uniquely American invention, a system of tilework that eventually became a national standard produced by all US tile manufacturers.
A common standard evolves...
A remarkably collegial tile industry of almost 20 American companies, cooperating to serve the growing nation’s insatiable appetite for construction materials to meet unprecedented demand, collaborated on the physical specifications and nomenclature that became the national standard by 1920. Every “whiteware” tile form produced and installed in a pre-war America home, hotel, or subway station, came out of that common catalog – a vast assortment of tilework that we reproduce today as the Subway Ceramics collection.
This journey of discovery revealed many insights about that special time in America and the contributions made by scores of newly immigrated and 1st generation Americans. They brought with them the trade skills and apprenticeship traditions essential to sustain the construction boom of the roaring 20’s.