Over the last century, the world has become increasingly interconnected. From letters to emails and telephones to smartphones, technology has evolved at a rapid rate. Prior to the breakthrough technological advances of the 20th and 21st century, communication looked very different. Until the mid 19th century, the lack of road infrastructure saw individuals relying on marine vessels to spread information and transport goods.

Today, information can be spread from any location in a matter of seconds. The Pneumatic Tube System was a cutting-edge development in communication and transportation. While these systems have changed and altered with technological advances, pneumatic tube systems still play a crucial role within society.

The History behind Pneumatic Tube Systems

Pneumatic Tube Systems are not novel to the 21st century, the concept of pneumatic transportation can be traced back to the late 1700’s. Historically pneumatic tube systems connecting buildings were first used by the post office, hence the German name “Rohrpost” which translates to pipe post in English. Most European capitals and many other large cities had large parcel post systems from the post office to the stock exchange and government buildings in the mid-1800s.

Engineer Latimer Clark was the first to design and build a tube system, which went into operation at London Telegraph Office in 1853. This system would revolutionise rapid transportation; paper telegrams could be transported rapidly between the London Stock Exchange and the London Telegraph Office – a total distance of 220 yards – through a network of underground tubes using compressed air. Popularity in rapid transportation grew quickly leading to the expansion of the tube network; the length and diameter were altered in order to connect a greater number of locations and to facilitate the transportation of larger goods including parcels.

London had almost 22 miles of underground tube by 1880. Department stores were also using air tubes in the early 1900s sending payments to the cash office and returning the change to the sales desks. Initially, metal tubing was used and compressed air.

During the 19th century, Pneumatic Tube Systems were primarily a postal service; utilised by post offices, stock exchanges and banks alike, to rapidly transport goods between two locations. Pneumatic Tube Systems were a turning point, especially within the financial sector. London’s network of underground tubes eliminated the need for frequent road travel, providing an alternative, fast and efficient means of communication. It was not long until local stock exchanges in Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester installed similar systems.

Overtime, Pneumatic Tube Technology developed and was applied to various sectors including, retailershospitals and warehouses. On account of the systems success, during the late 19th century other European cities began to utilise similar systems to speed up internal communication. A major tube network was constructed in Paris to be utilised for postal travel. Demand led to the extension of such networks and by the 20th century, pneumatic messages could be delivered across Paris in its entirety.

Today, Pneumatic tube systems are not utilised on the same scale as they were a century ago – likely on account of modern innovations such as the mobile phone. Nevertheless, there continues to be a great demand for Pneumatic Technology within several fields’ especially health care facilities. Dealing with hundreds of patients a day, hospitals required a quick way to transport samples and medication between locations. Despite continuing technological advances, Pneumatic Tube Systems continue to play an integral role in modern day health system.