The first plans for a rapid transit system in Moscow date back in the times of the Russian Empire, but they were postponed by World War I, the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War. It was not until June 1931 that the decision to start construction of the Moscow Metro was taken by the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party. The first lines were built under the 1930s Moscow general plan designed by Lazar Kaganovich, and the Metro was initially (until 1955) named after him ("Metropoliten im. L.M. Kaganovicha"). Advice was given by the London Underground, the world's oldest metro system (partly because of this connection Gants Hill tube station, although not completed until much later, is reminiscent in design of many stations on the Moscow Metro).
The first line was opened to public on May 15, 1935 at 7am. The line was 11 km long, and included 13 stations. It connected Sokolniki to Park Kultury with a branch from Okhotny Ryad to Smolenskaya . The latter branch was further extended westwards to the new station Kiyevskaya in March 1937 (making the first Metro crossing of the Moskva River by the Smolensky Metro Bridge). The construction of the first stations was based on other underground systems, and only a few original designs were allowed: (Krasniye Vorota, Okhotniy Ryad and Kropotkinskaya). Kiyevskaya station was the first to use national motifs.
On May 14, 1935, the Komsomol was awarded the Order of Lenin by Stalin's suggestion for the contribution of the Komsomol members to construction of the first Metro stage.
The second stage was completed before the war. In March 1938 the Arbatskaya branch was split in two and extended to Kurskaya station (now the dark-blue Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya Line). In September 1938 the Gorkovskaya Line opened between Sokol and Teatralnaya. Here the architecture was based on the most popular of the stations already in existence (Krasniye Vorota, Okhotnyi Ryad and Kropotkinskaya) and the compositions followed the popular art deco style, though merging it with socialist visions. The first deep level Column station Mayakovskaya was built at the same time.
Building work on the third stage was delayed but not interrupted during the World War II, and two Metro sections were put into service: Teatralnaya - Avtozavodskaya (3 stations, crossing the Moskva river in a deep tunnel) and Kurskaya - Partizanskaya (4 stations) were inaugurated in 1943 and 1944 respectively. War motifs replaced socialist visions in the architectural design of the stations.
During the Siege of Moscow, in the autumn and winter of 1941, metro stations were used as air-raid shelters and the Council of Ministers moved its offices to the platforms of Mayakovskaya, where Stalin made public speeches on several occasions. Chistiye Prudy station was also walled off and the headquarters of the Air Defence installed there.
After the war, construction started on the fourth stage of the Metro, which included the Koltsevaya Line and a deep part of the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya line from Ploshchad Revolyutsii to Kievskaya, and a surface extension to Pervomaiskaya in the early 1950s. The exquisite decoration and design of so much of the Moscow Metro is considered to have reached its peak in these stations.
The Koltsevaya Line was planned first as a line running under the Sadovoye Koltso (Garden Ring), a wide avenue encircling the borders of Moscow's city centre. The first part of the line - from Park Kultury to Kurskaya (1950) - follows this avenue. But later plans were changed and the northern part of the ring line deviates 1-1.5 km outside the Sadovoye Koltso, thus providing service for 7 (out of 9) rail terminals. The next part of the Koltsevaya line opened in 1952 (Kurskaya - Belorusskaya) and in 1954 the ring line was completed.
There is an interesting urban legend about the origin of the ring line. A group of engineers approached Stalin with plans for the Metro, to inform him of current progress and of what was being done at that moment. As he looked at the drawings, Stalin poured himself some coffee and spilt a small amount over the edge of the cup. When he was asked whether or not he liked the project so far, he put his cup down on the centre of the Metro blueprints and left in silence. The bottom of the cup left a brown circle on the drawings. The planners looked at it and realized that it was exactly what they had been missing. Taking it as a sign of Stalin's genius, they gave orders for the building of the ring line, which on the plans was always printed in brown. This legend, of course, may be attributed to Stalin's cult of personality. In fact the line was never shown as a circle on the Metro map until 1980, long after Stalin's death. Prior to this time, the line was depicted much closer to the shape of the actual route.
During the Cold War
The beginning of the Cold War led to the construction of a deep part of the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya Line. The stations on this line are very deep and were planned as shelters in the event of nuclear war. After finishing the line in 1953, the upper tracks between Ploshchad Revolyutsii and Kiyevskaya were closed and later reopened in 1958 as a part of the Filyovskaya Line. In the further development of the Metro, the term "stages" was not used any more, although sometimes the stations opened in 1957–1959 are referred to as the "fifth stage".
During the late 1950s, the architectural extravagance of new metro stations was significantly toned down, and decorations at some stations, like VDNKh and Alexeyevskaya, were greatly simplified compared with original plans. This was done on the orders of Nikita Khrushchev, who favoured a more spartan decoration scheme. A typical layout (which quickly became known as "Sorokonozhka" - "Centipede", which comes from the fact that early designs had 40 concrete columns in two rows) was developed for all new stations, and the stations were built to look almost identical, differing from each other only in colours of the marble and ceramic tiles. Most of these stations were built with simplified, cheaper technologies which were not always quite suitable and resulted in extremely utilitarian design. For example, walls paved with cheap and simplistic ceramic tiles proved to be susceptible to vibrations caused by trains, with some tiles eventually falling off. It was not always possible to replace the missing tiles with the ones of the same color, which eventually led to infamous "variegated" parts of the paving. Not until the mid-1970s was the architectural extravagance restored, and original designs once again became popular. However, newer design of "centipede" stations, with 26 columns with wider ranges between them and more sophisticated, continued to dominate.