The History of Subway Tile

The sophisticated and uniquely American system of "subway tile" that became the national standard for all U.S. tile manufacturers.

The 100+ year history of subway tile

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. As the industrial revolution transformed the tile industry,  a sophisticated and precise system of ceramic tilework quickly evolved in England and America. These clean, glossy white tiles quickly gained popularity and by 1905, they were proudly displayed in New York City’s first subway stations.  Check-out “Remnants of 1904 Union Square Subway Station Hidden in Plain Sight” to see how the MTA is preserving this tile heritage.

Subway tile would eventually become a symbol of modernity in America. It’s sleek appearance and ease to clean satisfied the needs of designers and notoriously germophobic Victorian homeowners alike. While other design trends came and went, subway tile managed to stand the test of time. 

A century later, subway tile remains the tile-of-choice for those who are looking to achieve a clean, timeless, and sophisticated look in their space. In 2006, the Subway Ceramics collection was introduced as the first complete and historically authentic American heritage tile collection since the 1920’s. This collection offers tile options that are authentic reproductions of the distinctively flat surface, pencil-thin grout lines, soft rounded corner trims and integrated ceramic accessories that put subway tile on the map.



The 15-year history of Subway Ceramics

The 2006 launch of the Subway Ceramics collection was just the beginning.  We soon discovered the integrated ceramic accessory collection from American Encaustic Tile Company, which by 1920 had become the world’s largest tile company.  Using 3D CAD and prototyping technology, we reproduced a complete collection in 3″ x 6″ and 4-1/4″ square formats. 

The development of the Subway Ceramics collection was a technical feat made possible through the dedication and technical resourcefulness of an experienced team of tilemakers, the collaboration of highly specialized tool & die makers, machinists, glaze chemists, and the knowledge of experienced suppliers in all the raw materials that constitute the clay body and glazes needed to produce the collection.