In 1897, mail delivery in New York City sped up tremendously when a system of pneumatic tubes was laid underneath the streets. The same technology that allows multiple lanes at a bank’s drive-through was harnessed to deliver messages and some surprising goods in the city in those same kind of cylinders.
At 24-inches long and 8-inches wide, these cylinders could hold up to 600 letters. A team of 136 “Rocketeers” and dispatchers made sure the
system ran smoothly, transporting upwards of 95,000 letters per day.
The original tubes were less than a mile long, from the old General Post Office to the Produce Exchange. It quickly grew to cover both sides of Manhattan Island with a crosstown line. Extensions were added to the Bronx and Brooklyn using the Brooklyn Bridge. There is even a rumour that a popular Bronx sandwich shop used the system to send their sandwiches – the real submarine sandwiches! It took only 20 minutes for a canister to travel from the General Post Office to Harlem. A 40-minute mail wagon route was reduced to 7 minutes.
There was at least one case in which a cat was sent through the tubes, causing astonishment that the feline survived the trip. The New York pneumatic mail system ran until the 1950s, when it was discontinued due to the high expense of maintaining it. Read about the days of tube mail at Messy Messy Chic.
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