The Pneumatic Mail Tubes: New York's Hidden Highway And Its Development An Historical Perspective It was not a Pipe Dream! By Robert A. Cohen Copyright August 1999 Introduction



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The Pneumatic Mail Tubes:

New York's Hidden Highway And Its Development
An Historical Perspective

It was not a Pipe Dream!

By Robert A. Cohen
Copyright © August 1999
Introduction
In 1971 the Post Office Department became a quasi-private federal agency with the new name of the United States Postal Service. It no longer looks toward Congress to appropriate money; it must sustain itself. At the very beginning of my career with the Postal Service in 1972, I met people who were employed by the original Post Office Department and knew of the Pneumatic Tube System. They would talk of a system of underground tubes around New York City that transported mail from one station to another. I wish I had listened more closely at that time. I was quite young and I had other interests on my mind. All I can now recall is their pointing to a section of the building where the tubes came up through the floor. I heard a few stories about its normal operation that always fascinated me. There were cylinders into which mail could be placed and sent through the tubes. I guess I had the same reaction that I get today when I tell people about it. It is usually disbelief. The whole idea was an anachronism to me. It was something you might see on the old TV series the "Wild Wild West." The old-time postal workers also had colorful stories of the extraordinary use of the tubes. Supposedly, there was a cat sent through the system from one station to another just to see the reaction. I was sure that an order of a corned beef on rye with a knish and a pickle had been transported through the tube system from the post office nearest the Second Avenue Deli.
Over one hundred years ago Postmaster General (PMG) Charles Emory Smith predicted the Pneumatic Tube Service's delivering mail to every home in the upcoming twentieth century. He was partially correct. In 1910 the U.S. Post Office Department initiated the policy of home delivery of mail to every home in the nation. That service to every home is still in effect in spite of its annual cost. The Pneumatic Tube Service did not last as long, as a direct result of its annual cost.
In October 1997 the 100th anniversary of the Pneumatic Tubes passed without any official recognition. My interest was taken just before that time, when the curator of the postal museum in New York City told me about that upcoming event. I began researching and looking for any remnants of the tubes. My imagination went wild with images of my predecessor postal employees working the system and the heavy equipment used to transport and receive the carriers. I had recollections of the stories I had heard earlier in my career. I was amazed and fascinated when I learned of the tubes traversing the Brooklyn Bridge. The fast action of the system caused it to be described as "Mail shot from Guns". Its travel routes caused it to be described as "Subterranean Mail"
How could the one hundredth anniversary of the Pneumatic Tube system pass without recognition? How could such a marvel be forgotten? I have not forgotten it. Here is what I have learned.


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