Quirky Pneumatics Facts
I’m often asked what my weirdest fact about pneumatics is, and it has to be the New York City Pneumatic Mail system.
The New York pneumatic tube mail system was installed in in 1897. Each tube could carry between 400 and 600 letters and traveled at 30-35 miles per hour. In full flow the tubes stretched 27 miles, linking 23 post offices.
There are stories that the system may have extended into the Bronx, with sandwich subs reportedly being delivered via pneumatic tubes from a subway shop in the Bronx to downtown postal stations. The system even crossed boroughs into Brooklyn, using the Brooklyn Bridge.
The system, which was located 4 to 6 feet below the city streets, was privately owned and created, but the high operating costs of the pneumatic system ultimately proved its downfall. By 1918, the federal government considered the annual rental payments ($17,000 per mile per annum) made by the post office to be ‘exorbitant’ and endorsed a new alternative with greater capacity–the automobile–as the delivery method of choice. In New York City, a successful lobby by contractors led to the reinstatement of pneumatic mail service in 1922. A complete stop didn’t happen until 1953.
Image © Sunderland Echo
Pneumatics Close to Home
I recall similar systems being used in Binns Department store in Sunderland to carry money and orders from the store tills to a central office. These pneumatic systems have seen a slight renaissance in the last few years with many major stores adopting them as an internal transfer method of choice. The reliability and longevity of these systems is second to none, and maintenance is made relatively easy because of the simplicity of the systems used to power the functionality. And when they do go wrong, you just need to call in Airlane to sort out the problem!
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© Gary Conlin 2018
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