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The Pneumatic Tube’s Journey through History

The idea of the pneumatic tube will never be forgotten. They’re a few quirks from the mainstream concept of pneumatic tubes such as bank drive-thru and retro-vision of a smokeless and frictionless future. However, the hope lives with inventions such as the hyperloop that combines the pneumatic tubes and maglev for high-speed transport. With that said, the thing most people don’t know is how long the dream has been alive and that our society has been trying to move people for more than 150 years.

How Pneumatic Tubes Work

Pneumatic tubes are pretty straightforward. They are sealed containers that allow a fan to make a vacuum. When a canister goes into lace, a fan then comes to life and creates a difference in air pressure that sucks the tube to its receiving station. Since the 1850s, people have adapted artificial vacuums for powering the mail system, while sending a vast amount of packages.

History of Pneumatic Tubes

The New York City underground pneumatic mail system launched in 1897. It carried the mail from one post office to another. The very first canister contained a bible, a flag, and a copy of the constitution. Many operators referred to themselves as “rocketeers,” and at the peak of pneumatic tube systems, people could send out 200,000 pieces of mail in an hour. Pneumatic tube networks were very common during this time. These tube systems have been running in London since the 1850s. They were also implemented in Paris, Prague, and Philadelphia.

Why Pneumatic Tubes get Phased Out?

As cities grew, and cars started to develop, pneumatic tubes became too challenging to install, maintain, and staff. Our society saw more widespread adoption in department stores, offices, and banks. As interoffice mail, pneumatic tubes were more practical, until smaller offices and email made them an extravagance as well.

Pneumatic Tubes for People?

However, the concept of pneumatic tubes was always more significant than that. Society wanted to put people in the canisters. Alfred Ely Beach’s experimental subway debuted under Broadway, which was modeled after experiments in England. Alfred’s experiment sold more than 400,000 short rides in New York. For people in New York, it wasn’t a subway; it was an advancement in civilization.

Similar to London’s Crystal Palace atmospheric roadway in the 1860s, it showed easy and clean transport. However, Beach’s proof of this concept was closed before more stations could be built. A lot of investors became scared. There was no pneumatic disaster, but reality started to sink for society. The same thing that eventually took down the pneumatic mail system brought down the pneumatic subway. It wasn’t easy or cheap enough to be sustainable.

The airless tube had too much friction. However, pneumatic tubes are still around. Up until 2011, pneumatic tubes were used in at least one McDonald’s drive-thru. They are also still used in hospitals to transport lab samples quickly and efficiently to one floor to another. However, it’s the hyperloop that has the original spirit and that the conviction of the pneumatic tube system isn’t a pipedream.

In Summary

It’s the ideal aspect of partial Victorian and the Jetsons show. Pneumatic tubes are the concept that tubes won’t just push people from one place to another one, but push us into the future.

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