INTERNET 1897: A Series of Pneumatic Tubes, Some of Which Contain Cats
October 8, 2013 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Between 1897 and 1953, the New York City post office used a system of pneumatic tubes to move up to 30% of its mail around the city. Among the first things sent whizzing across Manhattan during the inauguration of the system: a black cat. Via the links in that Atlantic article, you can find other strange aspects to the story. For example, there was a pneumatic subway in use in NYC by 1870 — The Beach Pneumatic Transit covered an entire block for three years!
posted by not_on_display (28 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
There is still a pneumatic transportation system on Roosevelt Island.
posted by zamboni at 7:02 PM on October 8, 2013


Not to be confused with this
or this
or this

posted by not_on_display at 7:04 PM on October 8, 2013


Paging oneswellFOOP!
posted by islander at 7:06 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pneumatic mail was popular around the world - Prague only stopped using theirs after the floods of 2002.

More on capsule pipelines.
posted by zamboni at 7:08 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


LOOooooooooolcats.
posted by uosuaq at 7:09 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cat o' nine mails.

hang on, I can do better.
posted by zippy at 7:11 PM on October 8, 2013


I like imagining that cat as a grandparent cat sitting around the fire and telling the kittens all about the time it zoomed around in a tube.
posted by elizardbits at 7:12 PM on October 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


It is probably why cats hate getting air blown in their faces. Reminds them of the tubes.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:16 PM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow, do I really have to do this? You slackers, this FPP was posted over 20 minutes ago. Anyway, this is obligatory:

I have no idea how these people got their cats wedged into their pneumatic tubes, or why.
posted by desjardins at 7:20 PM on October 8, 2013 [23 favorites]


Origin of the famous Laugh-Out-Loud Cats!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:22 PM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


This sounded like a completely made up idea from 1984. Consider me schooled.

Poor kitties. Why are they always test subjects?
posted by quiet earth at 7:36 PM on October 8, 2013


Yeah, I'm sure nobody got clawed that night.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:38 PM on October 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


I didn't think I could love pneumatic tubes more, but then you added cats.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:48 PM on October 8, 2013


Imagine you're just a mail clerk doing your job methodically emptying pneumatic tubes and then you grab one and out comes howling fur and claws and teeth
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:24 PM on October 8, 2013 [7 favorites]


Elon's Hyperloop anyone? I'd go like a shot.
posted by anadem at 9:02 PM on October 8, 2013


Imagine you're just a mail clerk doing your job methodically emptying pneumatic tubes and then you grab one and out comes howling fur and claws and teeth
would not buy again
posted by NMcCoy at 9:55 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've done a lot of research on pneumatic tubes. You might like this piece I wrote for the journal Cabinet a couple years ago on the topic. I also did a bunch of Ignite talks on pneumatic tubes—this one's a good one.
posted by maximolly at 10:26 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Myer's department stores here in Melbourne used to have a pneumatic tube system when I was a kid. I think the way it worked was that the sales assistant would write up a receipt and collect your money, put them in a cylinder that went into the pneumatic tube and shot through to the accounting department. Someone there would prepare the correct change and send it back together with a carbon copy (or the original?) of the receipt. It was all very marvellous to a small child.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:03 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are we sure it's not magnets or hot air?
posted by ssmug at 1:48 AM on October 9, 2013




Who ordered a cat?!?!?
posted by blue_beetle at 5:11 AM on October 9, 2013


Thank you, but I prefer my mail to be delivered by tiny underground trains.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:20 AM on October 9, 2013


I work in a hospital where we have a very large pneumatic tube system to send blood samples around to the various labs. I support the servers that control it.

I also have two cats...
posted by bondcliff at 5:50 AM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Beach Pneumatic Transit has a chapter in Paul Collins' excellent Banvard's Folly. This is particularly on my mind as I struggle through Paul Collins' sadly very much not excellent Murder of the Century. seriously, what a letdown this book has turned out to be. and I LOVE all his other works...

I was plant engineer for about 6 years at a large, sprawling chemical factory that used pneumatic tubes to fire samples down to the lab, and pass messages and daily reports between plant areas. Horseplay with the system was strictly forbidden. Ask me how well that worked out. You would not BELIEVE some of the stuff that got sent around, especially on backshift.
posted by hearthpig at 5:53 AM on October 9, 2013


Ask me how well that worked out

Go on ...
posted by carter at 6:02 AM on October 9, 2013


@carter oh lordy, you want them in order of grossness, or alphabetically?

Lessee, offhand: half a sandwich, a rat, several condoms, someone's car keys, a ball of pubic hair, mash notes galore, star wars lego minifigs, and on one spectacular occasion a large human turd. (That guy got fired after a psych eval.)
posted by hearthpig at 6:48 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Apollo-era Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center has, or rather had, a spectacularly awesome pneumatic tube (aka "p-tube") system for distributing documents. Each station has a button matrix for selecting a destination. Your canister first goes down into a switching room where it gets put into this large motorized slotted drum. The drum rotates around and loads your canister into the tube that leads to the destination. Valves open and wooosh. You might recognize this hub-and-spoke architecture as being very similar to that used for twisted-pair ethernet. Although tubes still run throughout the building, the system itself no longer functions. The switching mechanism is long gone.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 7:47 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rub a candle along a sticky zipper

I have also used Chapstik for that purpose.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:23 PM on October 9, 2013


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