Photo: Curious Expeditions
Everything’s going down the tubes, today on Engineering Works!
Sometimes the niftiest gadgets are nothing new. If you use the drive-up window at your bank, you know about one of them. The contraption that slurps up your check and gives you back money. It’s a pneumatic tube, and it’s been around since the Victorian Age, back in the 1800s.
Pneumatic tubes use compressed air to move things. Sort of like a vacuum cleaner in reverse. A puff of air sends them away. Lower the pressure and they come back. In the beginning, engineers thought big pneumatic tubes might be a good way to move freight, even people.
In 1870, inventor Alfred Beach built New York City’s first subway – a 300-foot pneumatic tube big enough to carry wheeled vehicles. It ran for a block from City Hall. City officials decided to build elevated trains instead.
By the early 1900s, underground tube systems in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York and other cities whisked mail all over town faster than a horse-drawn wagon could. The New York Stock Exchange moved orders with pneumatic tubes faster than messengers on foot. And sales clerks in almost every department store traded payments and receipts with cashiers at the other end of pneumatic tubes.
Today, banks, hospitals and some businesses use pneumatic tubes to send things quickly within their buildings. Paperwork. Machine parts. Try sending a bottle of antibiotics over the Internet.
Well, we’re done here.
EngineeringWorks! is made possible by Texas A&M Engineering and produced by K-A-M-U F-M in College Station. Learn more about engineering. Visit us on the World Wide Web. Engineeringworks.tamu.edu.