The North Atlantic subpolar gyre (SPG) connects tropical and high‐latitude waters, playing a leading role in deep‐water formation, propagation of Atlantic water into the Arctic, and as habitat for many ecosystems. Instrumental records spanning recent decades document significant decadal variability in SPG circulation, with associated hydrographic and ecological changes. Emerging longer‐term records provide circumstantial evidence that the North Atlantic also experienced centennial trends during the 20th century. Here, we use marine sediment records to show that there has been a long‐term change in SPG circulation during the industrial era, largely during the 20th century. Moreover, we show that the shift and late 20th century SPG configuration were unprecedented in the last 10,000 years. Recent SPG dynamics resulted in an expansion of subtropical ecosystems into new habitats and likely also altered the transport of heat to high latitudes.