On this day, May 12, in 1989, the last graffiti-covered New York City subway car was retired.
The underground graffiti movement took form in the late '60s and early '70s. Norman Mailer heralded the drawings as a vibrant form of urban art. But by the 1980s, graffiti covered almost every car, and the subway system appeared lawless.
The city responded by imposing heavy fines, banning the sale of spray paint to minors and erecting barbed-wire fences around train yards. But the vandals persisted.
In 1984, the transit authority changed tactics, and began cleaning cars as soon as they were vandalized so the taggers couldn't admire their work. Cleaners were stationed at the end of the train.
Within five years, the entire fleet of 6,245 cars was graffiti-free. - Scott McCabe