The Metropolitan Railway opened using GWR broad gauge locomotives
The idea of an underground railway linking the
City of London with some of the railway termini in its urban centre was proposed in the 1830s, and the
Metropolitan Railway was granted permission to build such a line in 1854. To prepare construction, a short test tunnel was built in 1855 in
Kibblesworth, a small town with geological properties similar to London. This test tunnel was used for two years in the development of the first underground train, and was later, in 1861, filled up.
 The world's first underground railway, it opened in January 1863 between
Farringdon using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives. It was hailed as a success, carrying 38,000 passengers on the opening day, and borrowing trains from other railways to supplement the service. The Metropolitan District Railway (commonly known as the
District Railway) opened in December 1868 from South Kensington to Westminster as part of a plan for an underground "inner circle" connecting London's main-line termini. The Metropolitan and District railways completed the
Circle line in 1884, built using the
cut and cover method. Both railways expanded, the District building five branches to the west reaching
Wimbledon and the Metropolitan eventually extended as far as
Verney Junction in
Buckinghamshire, more than 50 miles (80 km) from
Baker Street and the centre of London.
For the first deep-level tube line, the
City and South London Railway, two 10 feet 2 inches (3.10 m) diameter circular tunnels were dug between
King William Street (close to today's
Monument station) and
Stockwell, under the roads to avoid the need for agreement with owners of property on the surface. This opened in 1890 with electric locomotives that hauled carriages with small opaque windows, nicknamed
padded cells. The
Waterloo and City Railway opened in 1898, followed by the
Central London Railway in 1900, known as the "twopenny tube". These two ran electric trains in circular tunnels having diameters between 11 feet 8 inches (3.56 m) and 12 feet 2.5 inches (3.721 m), whereas the
Great Northern and City Railway, which opened in 1904, was built to take main line trains from
Finsbury Park to a
Moorgate terminus in the City and had 16-foot (4.9 m) diameter tunnels.
In the early 20th century, the District and Metropolitan railways needed to electrify and a joint committee recommended an
AC system, the two companies co-operating because of the shared ownership of the inner circle. The District, needing to raise the finance necessary, found an investor in the American
Charles Yerkes who favoured a
DC system similar to that in use on the City & South London and Central London railways. The Metropolitan Railway protested about the change of plan, but after arbitration by the
Board of Trade, the DC system was adopted.
The Underground Electric Railways Company years
Passengers wait to board a tube train in the early 1900s
Yerkes soon had control of the District Railway and established the
Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) in 1902 to finance and operate three tube lines, the
Baker Street and Waterloo Railway (Bakerloo), the
Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway (Hampstead) and the
Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway, (Piccadilly), which all opened between 1906 and 1907. When the "Bakerloo" was so named in July 1906,
The Railway Magazine called it an undignified "gutter title". By 1907 the District and Metropolitan Railways had electrified the underground sections of their lines.
In January 1913, the UERL acquired the
Central London Railway and the
City & South London Railway, as well as many of London's bus and tram operators. Only the
Metropolitan Railway, along with its subsidiaries the
Great Northern & City Railway and the
East London Railway, and the
Waterloo & City Railway, by then owned by the main line
London and South Western Railway, remained outside of the Underground Group's control.
A joint marketing agreement between most of the companies in the early years of the 20th century included maps, joint publicity, through ticketing and UNDERGROUND signs outside stations in Central London. The Bakerloo line was extended north to Queen's Park to join a new electric line from Euston to
World War I delayed construction and trains reached
Watford Junction in 1917. During
air raids in 1915 people used the tube stations as shelters. An extension of the Central line west to
Ealing was also delayed by the war and completed in 1920. After the war government-backed financial guarantees were used to expand the network and the tunnels of the City and South London and Hampstead railways were linked at Euston and Kennington, although the combined service was not named the
Northern line until later. The Metropolitan promoted housing estates near the railway with the "
Metro-land" brand and nine housing estates were built near stations on the line. Electrification was extended north from Harrow to
Rickmansworth, and branches opened from Rickmansworth to Watford in 1925 and from Wembley Park to Stanmore in 1932. The
Piccadilly line was extended north to
Cockfosters and took over District line branches to Harrow (later Uxbridge) and Hounslow.
The London Passenger Transport Board years
In 1933, most of London's underground railways, tramway and bus services were merged to form the
London Passenger Transport Board, which used the
London Transport brand. The
Waterloo & City Railway, which was by then in the ownership of the main line
Southern Railway, remained with its existing owners.
 In the same year that the London Passenger Transport Board was formed,
Harry Beck's diagrammatic
tube map appeared for the first time.
In the following years, the outlying lines of the former Metropolitan Railway closed, the
Brill Tramway in 1935, and the line from
Quainton Road to
Verney Junction in 1936. The 1935–40
New Works Programme included the extension of the Central and Northern lines and the Bakerloo line to take over the Metropolitan's Stanmore branch.
World War II suspended these plans after the Bakerloo line had reached Stanmore and the Northern line
High Barnet and
Mill Hill East in 1941. Following bombing in 1940 passenger services over the West London Line were suspended, leaving
Olympia exhibition centre without a railway service until a District line shuttle from Earl's Court began after the war. After work restarted on the Central line extensions in east and west London, these were complete in 1949.
During the war many tube stations were used as air-raid shelters. On 3 March 1943, a test of the air-raid warning sirens, together with the firing of a new type of anti-aircraft rocket, resulted in a crush of people attempting to take shelter in
Bethnal Green Underground station. A total of 173 people, including 62 children, died, making this both the worst civilian disaster of World War II, and the largest loss of life in a single incident on the London Underground network.
The London Transport Executive / Board years
On 1 January 1948, under the provisions of the
Transport Act 1947, the
London Passenger Transport Board was nationalised and renamed the
London Transport Executive, becoming a subsidiary organisation of the
British Transport Commission, which was formed on the same day. Under the same act, the country's main line railways were also nationalised, and their reconstruction was given priority over the maintenance of the Underground and most of the unfinished plans of the pre-war New Works Programme were shelved or postponed.
However, the District line needed new trains and an unpainted aluminium train entered service in 1953, this becoming the standard for new trains. In the early 1960s the Metropolitan line was electrified as far as
British Railways providing services for the former Metropolitan line stations between Amersham and Aylesbury. In 1962, the British Transport Commission was abolished, and the London Transport Executive was renamed the
London Transport Board, reporting directly to the
Minister of Transport. Also during the 1960s, the
Victoria line was dug under central London and, unlike the earlier tubes, the tunnels did not follow the roads above. The line opened in 1968–71 with the trains being driven automatically and magnetically encoded tickets collected by automatic gates gave access to the platforms.
The Greater London Council years
On 1 January 1970 responsibility for public transport within Greater London passed from central government to local government, in the form of the
Greater London Council (GLC), and the
London Transport Board was abolished. The London Transport brand continued to be used by the GLC.
On 28 February 1975, a southbound train on the
Northern City Line failed to stop at its
Moorgate terminus and ploughed into the wall at the end of the tunnel. In the
resulting tube crash, 43 people died and a further 74 were injured, this being the greatest loss of life during peacetime on the London Underground.
 In 1976 the Northern City Line was taken over by British Rail and linked up with the main line railway at
Finsbury Park, a transfer that had already been planned prior to the accident.
In 1979 another new tube, the
Jubilee line, named in honour of
Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee, took over the Stanmore branch from the Bakerloo line, linking it to a newly constructed tube between
Baker Street and
Charing Cross stations. Under the control of the
Greater London Council, London Transport introduced a system of
fare zones for buses and underground trains that cut the average fare in 1981. Fares increased following a legal challenge but the fare zones were retained, and in the mid-1980s the
Travelcard and the Capitalcard were introduced.
The London Regional Transport years
In 1984 control of London Buses and the London Underground passed back to central government with the creation of
London Regional Transport (LRT), which reported directly to the
Secretary of State for Transport, whilst still retaining the London Transport brand.
One person operation had been planned in 1968, but conflict with the trade unions delayed introduction until the 1980s.
On 18 November 1987, fire broke out in an
King's Cross St. Pancras tube station. The
resulting fire cost the lives of 31 people and injured a further 100. London Underground were strongly criticised in the aftermath for their attitude to fires underground, and publication of the report into the fire led to the resignation of senior management of both London Underground and London Regional Transport. To comply with new safety regulations issued as a result of the fire, and to combat graffiti, a train refurbishment project was launched in July 1991.
In April 1994, the
Waterloo & City Railway, by then owned by
British Rail and known as the Waterloo & City line, was transferred to the London Underground.
 In 1999, the
Jubilee line was extended from
Green Park station through
Stratford station, resulting in the closure of the short section of tunnel between Green Park and
Charing Cross stations, and including the first stations on the London Underground to have
platform edge doors.
The Transport for London years
Transport for London (TfL) was created in 2000 as the integrated body responsible for London's transport system. TfL is part of the
Greater London Authority and is constituted as a statutory corporation regulated under local government finance rules.
 The TfL Board is appointed by the
Mayor of London, who also sets the structure and level of public transport fares in London. However the day-to-day running of the corporation is left to the
Commissioner of Transport for London.
TfL eventually replaced
London Regional Transport, and discontinued the use of the London Transport brand in favour of its own brand. The transfer of responsibility was staged, with transfer of control of the London Underground delayed until July 2003, when London Underground Limited became an indirect subsidiary of TfL.
 Between 2000 and 2003, London Underground was reorganised in a
Public-Private Partnership where private infrastructure companies (infracos) upgraded and maintained the railway. This was undertaken before control passed to TfL, who were opposed to the arrangement. One infraco went into administration in 2007 and TfL took over the responsibilities, TfL taking over the other in 2010.
Electronic ticketing in the form of the contactless
Oyster card was introduced in 2003. London Underground services on the
East London line ceased in 2007 so that it could be extended and converted to
London Overground operation,
 and in December 2009 the Circle line changed from serving a closed loop around the centre of London to a spiral also serving Hammersmith.
 From September 2014, passengers have been able to use
contactless cards on the Tube,
 the use of which has grown very quickly and now over a million
contactless transactions are made on the Underground every day.