Pneumatic tube mail in New York City

“N.Y. Post Office Pneumatic Tube” c. 1912. G.G. Bain Collection.

The pneumatic tube mail was a postal system working in New York City from 1897 to 1953 utilizing pneumatic tubes. Similar techniques had arisen in London, Manchester (and different British cities) in the mid-1800s and Paris in 1866 however following the creation of the primary American pneumatic mail system in Philadelphia in 1893, New York City’s system was begun, initially solely between the outdated General Post Office on Park Row and the Produce Exchange on Bowling Green, a distance of three,750 toes

Eventually the community stretched up each side of Manhattan Island all the best way to Manhattanville on the West facet and “Triborough” in East Harlem, forming a loop working a couple of toes beneath road stage. Travel time from the General Post Office to Harlem was 20 minutes. A crosstown line related the 2 parallel traces between the brand new General Post workplace on the West Side and Grand Central Terminal on the east, and took 4 minutes for mail to traverse. Using the Brooklyn Bridge, a spur line additionally ran from Church Street, in decrease Manhattan, to the overall put up workplace in Brooklyn (now Cadman Plaza), taking 4 minutes. Operators of the system had been referred to as “Rocketeers”.

The first dispatch was despatched by Depew from the General Post Office to the Produce Exchange Post Office and included a bible wrapped in an American flag, a duplicate of the Constitution, a duplicate of President William McKinley’s inaugural speech and several other different papers. The bible was included in order to reference Job 9:25, “Now my days are swifter than a post” (KJV) The return supply contained a bouquet of violets and, as reported the next day in the New York Times, the spherical journey took lower than three minutes, most of which was taken in unloading and reloading the canister on the different finish. Subsequent deliveries included a wide range of amusing gadgets together with a massive synthetic peach (a reference to Depew’s nickname), clothes, a candlestick and a dwell cat.

The set up in the Borough of Manhattan was constructed by the Tubular Dispatch Company. This firm was bought by the New York Pneumatic Service Company, who continued to function the tubes underneath contract to the postal service. Construction after 1902, beginning with the road between the New York and the Brooklyn basic put up workplaces, was accomplished by the New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company. Stock in these firms was owned solely by the American Pneumatic Service Company.

The service was suspended throughout World War I to preserve funding for the warfare effort.

The excessive working prices of the pneumatic system finally proved its downfall. By 1918, the federal authorities thought-about the annual rental funds ($17,000 per mile every year) made by the put up workplace to be ‘exorbitant’ and endorsed a brand new different with higher capability–the vehicle–because the transportation technique of selection.

The Brooklyn part alone price $14,000 in lease per 12 months and $6,200 in labor. After profitable lobbying by contractors the service was restored in 1922. Service was once more halted between Brooklyn and Manhattan in April 1950 for repairs on the Brooklyn facet and was by no means restored. In 1953 service was halted for the remainder of the system, pending assessment, and has by no means been reinstated.

And what’s left of the pneumatic tubes? Not a lot, if in any respect. The location of the tubes inside a metropolis’s underbelly mainly assured its destruction as soon as now not in use. According to The Smithsonian National Postal Museum, “Installation of the tubes was problematic, with previously laid pipes for sewage and gas limiting the size and thus the amount and kind of mail a pneumatic tube could carry. Water table levels also presented difficulties.” Kate Ascher additionally notes that there was a time when remnants of the pneumatic tubes had been nonetheless being discovered, however not typically any longer.


  • Each canister might maintain 600 letters and would journey as much as 35 miles per hour.
  • At the height, the system carried 95,000 letters a day, representing 30% of all mail in the town.
  • The whole system comprised 27 miles of tubes, connecting 23 put up workplaces.
  • The canisters used had been 25-pound metal cylinders that had been both 21 inches lengthy and seven inches in diameter or 24 inches lengthy and eight inches in diameter.
  • It had set hours of operation: 5am to 10pm on weekdays, and 5am to 10am on Saturdays
  • The dimension of the carriers in New York City was 24 inches lengthy, eight inches throughout
  • 95,000 letters had been moved each day, about 1/three of all first-class letters
  • It took four minutes to get from the General Post Office to Grand Central utilizing a tranverse tube that minimize throughout Manhattan
  • It took between 15 and 20 minutes for mail to get from Herald Square to Manhattanville and East Harlem
  • It took 11 minutes to get from the General Post Office to the Planetarium Post Office, close to the Museum of Natural History