London Underground

From Academic Kids

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Slight modifications to the famous London Underground roundel indicate the name of each station on platform and some outdoor signs.

The London Underground is an electric railway public transport network (a metro or subway system) that runs both above and under ground throughout the greater London area. It is the oldest such transit system in the world. Operations began on January 10, 1863 on the Metropolitan Line (however, the initial route now belongs to the Hammersmith & City Line).

The London Underground is usually referred to as either simply "the Underground" by Londoners, or (more familiarly) as "the Tube", due to the shape of its deep-bore tunnels.

There are currently 274 stations open and over 253 miles (408 km) of active lines, with more than three million passenger journeys made each day (948 million journeys made 20032004); there are a number of stations and tunnels now closed.

Since 2003, the Tube has been part of Transport for London (TfL), which also schedules and lets contracts for London's buses, including the famous red double-decker buses. Previously the London Transport Executive was the holding company for London Underground.



See History of the London Underground.

The first section of the London Underground (the "Metropolitan Railway", running between Paddington and Farringdon) was the world's first urban underground passenger-carrying railway. After delays for financial and other reasons following the scheme's adoption in 1854, public traffic eventually began on January 10, 1863. 40,000 passengers were carried over the line that day, with trains running every 10 minutes; by 1880 the expanded 'Met' was carrying 40 million passengers a year. Other lines swiftly followed, and by 1884 the Circle Line ("Inner Circle") was completed. Advances in deep-level tunnel design (including tunnelling shields) later allowed tunnels to be placed deeper underground than the original cut-and-cover method. The first "deep level" line, the City and South London Railway, now part of the Northern Line, opened in 1890.

In the early 20th century the presence of six independent operators running different Tube lines caused passengers substantial inconvenience; in many places passengers had to walk some distance above ground to change between lines. The costs associated with running such a system were also heavy, and as a result many companies looked to financiers who could give them the money they needed to expand into the lucrative suburbs. The most prominent of these was Charles Yerkes, an American tycoon who in 1900-1902 acquired the Hampstead, District, Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, creating Underground Electric Railways of London Ltd (Underground) on 9 April 1902. That company also owned many tram lines and proceeded to buy the London General Omnibus Company, creating an organisation colloquially known as the Combine.

In 1933, a public corporation called the London Passenger Transport Board was created. The Underground Group, the Metropolitan Railway and all the independent bus and tram lines were placed under the Board, an organisation which approximated in scope the current Transport for London. The outbreak of World War II, and especially The Blitz, led to the use of many Tube stations as air-raid shelters. Following the war, travel congestion continued to rise. The construction of the carefully planned Victoria Line on a diagonal northeast-southwest alignment beneath central London attracted much of the extra traffic caused by expansion after the war.

In 1977, the Piccadilly Line was extended to Heathrow Airport, and in 1979 the Jubilee Line was opened.

Public-Private Partnership

Since January 2003 the London Underground has been operated as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), where all the infrastructure is maintained by private companies but the Underground is still owned and operated by Transport for London (TfL). The network was split into three parts — JNP (Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines), BCV (Bakerloo, Central and Victoria Lines) and SSR (the sub-surface lines — District, Metropolitan, East London, Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines). The BCV and SSR contracts were won by Metronet, while JNP was won by Tube Lines. These companies are known as Infracos — Infrastructure Companies — and are made up of consortia of different companies: Metronet, for example, is a consortium of Balfour Beatty, WS Atkins, Bombardier, EDF Energy and RWE Thames Water.


The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was sceptical about the practicality of the PPP plan, and brought in the American Bob Kiley to repeat his success with the New York subway using public bond finance. Taking office in 2000 as London's first directly-elected Mayor, it was difficult for Livingstone to block the PPP process, which was entirely in the national Government's hands as it still owned London Transport. Livingstone mounted a legal challenge, but eventually dropped it as it was unlikely to succeed, and Metronet and Tube Lines began operations in January 2003. It was later revealed that the legal challenge had cost £4.2m directly, as well as £36m reimbursed to the bidders for costs incurred because of the six-month delay. [1] (,,1460243,00.html)

In March 2005 the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, charged with ensuring value for money in public spending, published a report [2] ( concluding that this remained to be demonstrated, primarily because of the untested structure of the 30-year contracts. These are to be revised every 7.5 years, meaning that the ultimate price for the promised £15.7bn of investment is still unknown. It notes that using public bond finance would have saved £90m a year in financing costs, even though the Government guaranteed repayment of 95 percent of costs in the event of premature termination, and the contracts place limits and exemptions on financial risk transferred to the infrastructure companies. The system still receives an annual public subsidy of £1bn, but its spending is now determined entirely by the infracos' interpretation of their 2000-page PPP contracts. And although the private operators are expected to receive 18-20 percent returns on capital, for the type of risk associated with major upgrades, most of the work is low-risk maintenance and replacement. The public sector procurement option (using private companies for specific major projects) would also have saved the £455m cost of concluding the PPP contracts, not to mention the five years' delay the contract negotiations caused.

Planned investment

The UK government has promised £16 billion of funding over the years until 2030, with early priorities to cut delays and improve reliability including refurbishments of lifts and elevators, more thorough cleaning and a new station serving the new Wembley Stadium. The Victoria Line will receive new signalling systems and seven new trains, along with renewal of track and equipment on many other lines. The Jubilee Line will receive £160 million for new signalling equipment and new trains, bringing the total to 63 seven car sets built by Alstom, although they will not be built in the UK. The Victoria and sub-surface lines will receive 1,738 new cars between 2008 and 2015, to be built in Derby. The Bakerloo Line will not receive new trains until 2019. The Metropolitan, District, Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines will receive 190 new trains, built by Bombardier, meaning all sub-surface trains will be of the same design giving easier maintenance. The trains will feature inter-car gangways enhancing passenger safety, and improved acceleration and braking allowing an increase in train frequency, in the case of the Victoria Line from 28 trains per hour to 33. The last trains to be replaced, 75 District Line trains, will get interim refurbishments.

Westinghouse will continue to supply signalling equipment; already 75% of installed control equipment has been supplied by Westinghouse.


In April 2005 Bob Kiley pressed for an urgent review of the PPP, describing its performance as "bordering on disaster". A week later the chief executive of Metronet was sacked, after complaints that it had made £50m profit [3] (,,1418922,00.html) despite being behind on all its major works. By April 2005 it had started work on only 13 station refurbishments (instead of 32 as scheduled), and was more than a year behind on the refurbishment of 78 District Line trains. It was also behind on its track replacement programme, having completed 28 km instead of the anticipated 48 km. TfL commented in April 2005 that new equipment promised by Metronet had failed to materialise - "We were supposed to be getting private sector expertise and technology with the PPP (Public Private Partnership) but instead they are just using the same old kit." A TfL spokesman said that Tube Lines was performing much better than Metronet because it had competitively tendered contracts for its capital programme. Metronet, by contrast, had handed the work to its shareholders. Template:Ref

In March 2005 the House of Commons Transport Select Committee noted that "Availability is the most important factor for Tube travellers. All the infracos needed to do to meet their availability benchmarks was to perform only a little worse than in the past. On most lines, they did not even manage that." [4] (

Metronet was also declared at fault by an accident investigators' report [5] ( into a May 2004 derailment at White City, for failing to implement sufficient safety checks despite being ordered to do so by TfL.[6] (,,1286880,00.html)



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London Underground Daily Travelcard

London Underground uses Transport for London's Travelcard zones for all fares, including Underground-only fares. Travelcard Zone 1 is the most central, with a boundary just outside the Circle Line. Most of inner London is within Travelcard Zone 2 though some is in Travelcard Zone 3. Zones 1 to 6 cover all of Greater London and a few extra stations; the remaining zones are named A, B, C and D, of which zone D is the most remote and consists of Amersham and Chesham out in the Chiltern Hills on the Metropolitan Line. These lettered zones cater for the rural extremities of the tube and do not encircle the capital.

In general, the more zones travelled through, the higher the fare. Journeys through zone 1 are more expensive than those involving only outer zones. The zone system works well because most of the stations where lines cross are in zone 1, meaning that most journeys over similar distances will cost the same.

There are assistance booths open for limited periods and ticket machines usable at any time. The machines will accept coins and English paper money — though not Northern Irish or Scottish notes — in good condition and usually give change. Most machines now accept major credit and debit cards.

In 2003 London Underground launched the Oyster card, a proximity card that a traveller swipes over a reader on the automatic gates rather than feeding it through a card ticket reader. Unlike the card tickets, the Oyster Card is not disposable, but value can be added to it at computerised ticket machines and at ticket offices.

Transport for London also sell daily, 3-day, 7-day, monthly and annual Travelcards, allowing unlimited rides in one or more zones on the London Underground; these are a good deal for commuters or anyone else who rides the tube daily. Travelcards also permit travel on National Rail within the zones they cover and bus travel for the whole of Greater London. "Off-Peak" Travelcards, also known as "One-Day Travelcards", are sold from machines only after 0930, and a "Peak" Travelcard is available at a higher price. Many shops, usually newsagents, sell bus passes and Travelcards; these are identified by a "Ticket Stop" sign, usually in a door panel or front window. A day pass is valid until 0430 the next morning. Passes can be bought from these agents during a day prior to travel.

Station access

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Not all Underground stations are accessible by people with mobility problems. Many have some of the 410 escalators (each going at a speed of 145 ft per minute) and 112 lifts, but not all of them. New stations are designed for accessibility, but retrofitting accessibility features to old stations is considered prohibitively expensive.

The escalators in London Underground stations are both an asset and a liability. They are among the longest escalators in Europe and all are custom-built for each station. They must run 20 hours a day, 364 days a year and cope with 13,000 people per hour, with 95% of them operational at any one time.

London Transport now produces a map specifically indicating which stations are accessible and more recent line maps are noting which stations provide step-free access to street level. However, step height from platform to train is often as high as 200 mm on older lines, and there can be a large gap between the train and some curving platforms. Only the Jubilee Line Extension is completely usable by the unassisted wheelchair-using traveller.

Safety, reliability and cost

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'Way Out' sign indicates the exit
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Westminster tube station - extensive structures are required because Portcullis House is above.

The London Underground has an excellent passenger safety record. Suicides are nonetheless common, at roughly one per week across the network, though it is estimated that only one in three attempts of this nature end in a fatality. To help prevent death, most deep tube stations have pits between the tracks at platforms; known as a 'suicide pit', their purpose is to let a body fall safely under the tracks and away from the path of an oncoming train. Delays resulting from a person jumping in front of the train as it pulls into a station are announced as "passenger action" or "a person under a train", but are referred to by staff as a "one under".

Surprisingly few accidents are caused by overcrowding on the platforms; one explanation suggested for this — presumably by people who have never visited London or the Tube — is that Londoners are too polite to push. More prosaically, Underground staff monitor platforms by CCTV and prevent people entering the system if they become overcrowded. Camden Town tube station is exit-only on Sunday afternoons (1300-1730) for the same reason.

However, the employee safety regimen has drawn criticism. In January 2002 London Underground was fined £225,000 for breaching safety standards for workers. In court the judge said the company was "sacrificing safety" to keep the trains running "at all costs." He continued that the company, "despite the lip service they paid to health and safety issues, fell lamentably short of the proper safety standards and, objectively, simply ignored their obligations in this respect." Workers had been ordered to work in the rain, in the dark, while the track current was still switched on. [7] (

Smoking was banned on the trains in July 1984. The ban was extended to all subsurface stations in February 1985 after the Oxford Circus fire.

The worst recent incident was a fire at King's Cross station on 18 November 1987, caused by a burning match falling onto a wooden-tread escalator panel. Thirty-one people died in the fire, which prompted the phasing out of wooden escalators and improved safety training for staff.

There have also been a number of high profile de-railments in recent years, mostly on the Central Line.

The system has suffered from significant under-funding in the past two decades and consequently has far older carriages and signals than its equivalents in such cities as Barcelona, Madrid and Paris. Recently, one of the private infrastructure companies, Tube Lines, was reported as using eBay to find spare parts for some of its equipment because they were not available any other way.[8] (


(for a map, see below)

The Underground does not run 24 hours a day because all track maintenance must be done at night after the system closes (unlike other metro systems, such as the New York City subway, the Underground does not have express tracks that would allow trains to be rerouted around maintenance sites). Recently, greater use has been made of weekend closures of parts of the system to allow scheduled engineering works.

See also London Underground rolling stock.


London Underground currently serves 273 stations, which are listed, along with DLR stations, at List of London Underground stations. Stations formerly served by the Underground or its predecessor companies can be found at List of closed London Underground stations.

The Underground actually serves 275 stations, but with Heathrow Terminal 4, and Queensway currently closed, it means that the currently served stations is 273. The temporary closure of Heathrow Terminal 4 is for the Heathrow loop to be modified for servicing of Terminal 5, a new 2-platform Piccadilly Line terminus. It is planned that services will run in the following pattern:

  • Hatton Cross - Heathrow T1,2,3 - Heathrow T5 - Heathrow T1,2,3 Hatton Cross
  • Hatton Cross - Heathrow T4 - Heathrow T1,2,3 - Hatton Cross

Some stations have only one platform. These are:

  • Chesham (Metropolitan Line)
  • Heathrow Terminal 4 (Piccadilly Line)
  • Mill Hill East (Northern Line)
  • Shoreditch (East London Line)


Lines on the Underground can be classified into two types: sub-surface and deep level. The sub-surface lines were dug by the cut-and-cover method, with the tracks running about 5 m below the surface. Trains on the sub-surface lines have the same loading gauge as British mainline trains. The deep-level or "tube" lines, bored using a tunnelling shield, run about 20 m below the surface (although this varies considerably), with each track running in a separate tunnel lined with cast-iron rings. These tunnels can have a diameter as small as 3.56 m (11' 8.25) and the loading gauge is thus considerably smaller than on the sub-surface lines, though standard gauge track is used. Lines of both types usually emerge onto the surface outside the central area, the exceptions being the Victoria Line which is in tunnel for its entire length save for a maintenance depot, and the Waterloo & City Line which, being very short, has no non-central part and no surface line.

The lack of lines in the south of the city is sometimes attributed to the geology of that area, the region being almost one large aquifer; additionally, it is impossible for cut and cover lines to go under the River Thames. Rather, the reason seems to be that during the great period of tube-building around the end of the 19th century, South London was already well-served by the electrified and efficiently-run suburban lines of the London and South Western Railway and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, and so there was no need for tubes. Indeed, to this day, the area is served by a large number of suburban rail services run by the South West Trains, Southern and South East Trains franchise holders, with varying degrees of efficiency (see Rail transport in the United Kingdom). More recently, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) has been built to serve the east of London, and extends as far south as Lewisham. The Tube interchanges with the DLR at several stations, including Bank, Canary Wharf and Stratford, as well as with the Tramlink system at Wimbledon. Despite these new links, many residents of south and south-east London feel neglected by the Underground proper.

The Tube connects with international Eurostar trains at Waterloo, and runs to Heathrow Airport (Piccadilly Line). Although the latter is slow (52 minutes nominal to Green Park) and often crowded, it is a far cheaper way to travel to the city centre than the Heathrow Express, which is not part of the tube network.

Links to Stansted Airport care of the Stansted Express can also be found at Tottenham Hale, on the Victoria Line, and to Gatwick care of the Gatwick Express at Victoria, served by the District, Circle and Victoria Lines.

The table below describes each of the lines, giving the colour presently used to represent the line on the ubiquitous Tube maps, the date the first section opened and the type of tunnel used.

London Underground lines
Line Name Map colour Opened Type Length
Bakerloo Line Brown 1906 Deep level 23 km / 14 miles
Central Line Red 1900 Deep level 74 km / 46 miles
Circle Line1 Yellow 1884 Sub-surface 22 km / 14 miles
District Line2 Green 1868 Sub-surface 64 km / 40 miles
East London Line3 Orange 1869 Sub-surface 8 km / 5 miles
Hammersmith & City Line4 Pink 1864 Sub-surface 14 km / 9 miles
Jubilee Line Silver 1979 Deep level 36 km / 23 miles
Metropolitan Line Purple 1863 Sub-surface 67 km / 42 miles
Northern Line5 Black 1890 Deep level 58 km / 36 miles
Piccadilly Line Dark Blue 1906 Deep level 71 km / 44 miles
Victoria Line Light Blue 1969 Deep level 21 km / 13 miles
Waterloo & City Line6 Teal 1898 Deep level 2 km / 1.5 miles
  1. The Circle Line became known as such in 1949, although it was a long-established service on the system. The Circle line was not built as a separate line, but was instead created as a service using parts of the District and Metropolitan Lines.
  2. Originally called the Metropolitan District Railway
  3. Originally a separate line operated by a consortium of companies including the Metropolitan. The line was owned by London Underground from 1948 but British Railways goods trains continued to run on it until 1966. It was for many years regarded as a branch of the Metropolitan Line, and was shown on the map as a purple and white striped line. The line gained its own identity in the late 1980s.
  4. Originally part of the Metropolitan Line, the line became known as the Hammersmith & City Line in 1990.
  5. The busiest line on the system, with two branches in central London.
  6. Came under control of London Transport in 1994.

The future


East London Line

Preparations are underway to extend the East London Line (ELL) both northwards and southwards while replacing the current 'sub-surface underground' service with one resembling "Metro" surface trains. Due to the impending changes the line was uniquely omitted from the partial privatisation of the Underground. The northern extension will see the current Shoreditch station closed and the line run on the old Broad Street viaduct to Dalston and then Highbury & Islington to connect with the Victoria Line. This would bring a non-National Rail service to Hackney for the first time. To the south, two branches are planned, mainly using existing railway lines. The first will run to West Croydon, with a spur to Crystal Palace, while the second would run to Clapham Junction. These changes will by 2010 transform the line from a small stub in the network to a major transport artery.

It is also proposed that together with the existing West London Line and North London Line, the extended ELL could by 2016 form the basis of the long-sought 'Orbital Rail route'.

Piccadilly Line

A new station is being built on the Piccadilly Line to serve Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport. The extension (called PiccEx) consists of a two-platform station, two sidings where trains can be stabled, approximately 3 km of 4.5 m-diameter bored tunnels, a ventilation shaft and two escape shafts. Civil works for the two tunnels, the vent shaft, one escape shaft and the structure of T5 station have been completed and trackwork is now being installed. The junction between PiccEx and the existing Heathrow Loop is now being constructed: this work requires that the tunnels between Terminal 4 and Terminals 1,2,3 be taken out of service until September 2006. The extension is due to be opened in 2007.

Metropolitan Line

TfL, together with Hertfordshire County Council, plans to connect the Watford branch of the Metropolitan Line to the disused Croxley Green Network Rail branch. This will bring the Underground back to central Watford and the important main line station Watford Junction, but the current Watford (Metropolitan) station will probably close.

More detailed information on all projects can be found at (


In the summer weather, temperatures on the Tube can become very uncomfortable for passengers. Normal air conditioning has been ruled out because of the lack of height to install units on trains and the problems of dispersing the heat generated. Heat pumps were trialled in 1938 and were proposed again several years ago to overcome this, and following a successful demonstration in 2001 funds were given to the School of Engineering at London's South Bank University to develop a prototype; work began in April 2002. A cash reward of £100,000 was offered by the Mayor of London during the hot Summer of 2003 for a solution to the problem but the competition ended in 2005 without a winner being announced.

The new fleet of trains for the sub-surface lines (Circle, District, H&C, Metropolitan and East London lines) will come with air-cooling. The first air-cooled trains are due to arrive in 2009.

There are posters on the Underground suggesting that passengers carry with them a bottle of water.


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Part of the Tube network (see also full map ( in a more geographically-accurate layout than the usual Tube map, using the same style





London Transport's tube map and roundel logo are instantly recognisable by any Londoner, almost any Briton, and many people around the world. The stylised Tube map as we now know it (original maps were often street-maps with the location of the lines superimposed) evolved from an original design [9] ( by electrical engineer Harry Beck in 1931. See Tube map for an in-depth analysis of its history and its topological nature.

The origins of the "roundel" logo, which in earlier years was known as the 'bulls-eye' or 'target', stems from the decision on 1908 to find a more obvious way of highlighting station names on the sytems platforms. The red disc, with blue name bar, was quickly adapted, with the use of the word "UndergrounD" across the bar, as an early corporate identity. The logo was modified by Edward Johnston in 1919. Many theories have been put forward to explain potential origins and explainations of the logo and some include such as that it resembles part of the mark legally required to be painted on the sides of ships, called the Plimsoll line, a previous British invention or that the logo refers to travel through a circular opening as well. Johnston also designed London Transport's distinctive sans-serif typeface in 1916. The typeface is noted for the curl at the bottom of the minuscule "l", which other sans-serif typefaces have discarded. A version of the typeface, since modified, continues in use today. Much of the reason for the widespread recognition of the London Transport logo is its ubiquitous usage on London Transport documents and signage. It is used for all tube station signs (where the station name appears on the horizontal bar), for example, as well as on in-carriage maps.

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Each station displays the Underground logo containing the station's name in place of the word "Underground", both at entrances to the station and repeatedly along the station walls, so that they can easily be seen by passengers on arriving trains. In addition, many stations' walls are decorated in tile motifs that are unique to the station, such as profiles of Sherlock Holmes' head at the Baker Street station or a cross containing a crown at the King's Cross St Pancras station.

Since TfL took control of London's transport the roundel has been applied to other transport types within the city (bus, taxi, tram, DLR etc) in different colour pairs. The roundel has become a symbol for London itself.

London Transport is known for taking legal action against unauthorised use of its trademarks, in spite of which unauthorised copies of the logo continue to crop up worldwide.

In popular culture

See also: List of London Underground-related fiction


  • An estimated half a million mice live on the underground system, mostly running around the tracks. TV personality Anthea Turner has written a series of children's books about these (London Underground mice) (
  • Only two people have had their coffins transported on the tube: William Gladstone and Dr Barnardo.
  • Regent's Park, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park Corner, Westminster, and Bank stations have no associated buildings at or above ground level, the stations, except for access stairs, being entirely underground.
  • On 13 May 1924, a woman named Daisy Hammond gave birth on a Bakerloo Line train at Elephant and Castle. Press reports that the baby had been named Thelma Ursula Beatrice Eleanor were widely reprinted, and not debunked until 2000 when she was traced for a TV interview. In fact she was named Mary Ashfield Eleanor; the chairman of the Underground Group, Lord Ashfield, was her godfather.
  • The record for visiting all 275 stations in the shortest possible time currently stands at 18 hours, 35 minutes and 43 seconds. It is held by Geoff Marshall and Neil Blake.[11] (
  • St John's Wood is the only station which contains none of the letters of the word 'mackerel'.
  • In January 2005 London Underground announced that it would play classical music at stations prone to loitering by youths. A trial had shown a 33% drop in abuse against staff. This had been first tried, with success, on the Tyne and Wear Metro. [12] (,,1389041,00.html)
  • There are only two tube stations that have all five vowels in them - South Ealing and Mansion House
  • A fragrance called "Madeleine" was introduced at St James's Park, Euston and Piccadilly Circus stations on 23 March 2001 in an effort to make the tube smell better. It was taken out of action on 24 March 2001 as it was making people feel sick.
  • Pigeons regularly travel on the tube in order to get more food.
  • The Jubilee Line is the only line which intersects all others.

More London Underground Tube Trivia (

See also


  • James Meek, London Review of Books, 5 May 2005, "Crocodile's Breath" (
  • Christian Wolmar (2004) The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How It Changed the City For Ever, Atlantic
  • Christian Wolmar (2002) Down the Tube: the Battle for London's Underground, Aurum Press
  • John R. Day, John Reed (2001), The Story of London's Underground, Capital Transport Publishing
  • Ken Garland (1994), Mr. Beck's Underground Map, Capital Transport Publishing
  1. Template:Note Ben Webster, The Times, 14 April 2005, "Metronet behind schedule on all of its main Tube projects"

External links



Local Rail Transit in the United Kingdom:

Docklands Light Railway (East London) | Glasgow Subway | London Underground | Tyne and Wear Metro


Blackpool | Tramlink (South London) | Manchester | Midland Metro | Nottingham | Sheffield

de:London Underground fr:Métro de Londres he:הרכבת התחתית של לונדון nl:Londense metro no:Londons undergrunnsbane zh:伦敦地铁


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