Humble Stalin’s Metro System

Viktor Deni: We have a Metro! (1935) Long live our great Stalin. There is no fortress that Bolsheviks cannot take – Stalin. Source: Lebedev, Artemii: Moscow Metro. 1996.

The Moscow Metro system began construction in 1932 after a massive publicity campaign around it and Stalin which caused the project to have priority on all the resources it needed. Many prominent people had their reputations tied to this project including Stalin’s successor,  Khrushchev.  It was built as one of the crowning achievements of the pre-WWII era and drew thousands of tourists from across the Soviet Union to marvel at the capital’s Metro system. The decision to construct and underground Metro instead of relying on the above ground trolley system would prove invaluable as it would serve as bomb shelters during the German bombardments of the city in WWII.

When construction started, the Soviets used German Metro construction techniques of open pit construction that both made construction easier, but faster as well. However, the downsides were that the Metro lines had to run along existing infrastructure instead of going straight from point A to B and that it massively disrupted the daily lives of Moscow’s citizenry.  Eventually, the Soviets adopted British techniques that allowed them to work deep underground without disrupting the lives of the people which I am sure they appreciated it as much we appreciate not having to go around construction. The British method required them to move construction deeper underground which forced the builders to scratch the elevators and install a new escalator system to move the massive amounts of foot traffic. The construction of the Metro system was plagued by a shortage of skilled workers, but those who did work were highly revered for decades to come. The manner of the construction of the Metro system allowed it to be easily expandable in the next decades that allowed it to reach the edges of the ever growing Moscow.

The first line opening in May 1935 to hundreds of thousands of passengers. The amount of passengers increased dramatically in its first months, increasing from 159,000 daily passengers in January to 261,000 daily passengers in February 1936. Over the course of the first year, the Metro system would average 360-400,000 passengers a day, surpassing the volume of the Paris Metro. It would carry an annual total of 110.7 million passengers for its first year and would continue to grow.

One fascinating part of the history is that different aspects related to it develop independently from the government. The Metro would be regarded as a palace to ordinary people would had never seen such marvels before that were buried deep underground. Underground children began to be picked up in the middle of tunnels during the nights and ferried across the city. The people of 20th Century Moscow faced the same problems we do like one man would tried to catch a train, but got his head stuck in the doors and was nearly killed when the train began to set off. Eventually, the Moscow Metro would serve as a meeting spot for young people to meet and fall in love.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

The Moscow Metro


13 Replies to “Humble Stalin’s Metro System”

  1. Interesting comparison between the German and British subway methods. I didn’t know anything about that and just kind of assumed that subways are built along the quickest possible route but obviously not. I love the poster you used at the beginning of your post. Great job!

  2. It is interesting to me that the metro system was considered one of the country’s proudest achievements leading up to World War Two because subways seem to only carry a negative connotation today. Just as Parker also noted, I had no idea that there were different methods to building metros and I enjoyed your comparison between the German and British methods.

  3. Wow! The work put into the Moscow Metro system is fascinating! In my own opinion, the planning behind it definitely looks more intricate the the Washington D.C. metro. Though this may be jumping the gun a bit, do you know how the metro system was affected by WWII? Was it badly damaged?

  4. great post. I had no idea that the metros would serve as bomb shelters so that’s quite interesting to learn

  5. I love that this is about the metro in the Soviet Union. I did not even know there was a metro system so it was really interesting to read about this. This is especially interesting since it is during their period of large industrial growth, so it makes sense that a metro system would be established.

  6. Your focus on the technical details of building the metro was really interesting! I’m sure having an underground metro system was a huge deal considering the size of Moscow and the cold of Russian winters. Great piece!

  7. I loved all of the interesting facts you incorporated in your post. The one I found most interesting was that the underground Metro was used as a bomb shelter during WWII, thats crazy! Also I think it would be super interesting to research the difficulties they metro had during the first few years. Living near Washington DC I know the pain of having a metro that is under work or shut down for the day so I wonder what typical problems looked like. Just a thought. Great post over all!

  8. You do a really good job of summarizing the progression of how the metro system came about! I like how you note that it was regarded as a palace to everyday people because of how elaborate the artwork and architecture were. It’s interesting to compare that to the fact that when the metro first opened, people were strongly encouraged to wear nice clothes; something which shows how big of a deal this was to them!

  9. I never thought metros could be so cool! You really nailed the development of the Moscow Metro. I thought it was interesting how you mentioned that Khrushchev tied his reputation to the success of this project. Very cool how the metro has gained an almost culture, independently from the government.

  10. This post on the metro system is very interesting. Increases in modes of transportation is a characteristic of industrialization and I like how you captured this in your post. I thought it was interesting how the underground metro system served as bomb shelters.

  11. Great post. It’s interesting to see how they used both methods until they found one that really worked for them. The numbers really impressed me too, I would not have expected that many people on a daily basis.

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