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Beach's Pneumatic Subway

- Franny Wentzel - Wednesday, April 8th, 2009 : goo

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Mention of the Vacuum Train article brings to mind Alfred Ely Beach's demonstration pneumatic railway of the 1870s.

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Constructed in secrecy over 58 days across from City Hall Park, this futuristic system used compressed air blowers to whisk passengers the grand total of one block's distance between Warren and Murray streets.

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Beach used a shield system to dig out his tunnel original that he claimed was a a pneumatic tube package delivery system to get around Tammany Hall.

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Contemporary photo of the tunnel;

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Sketches of the completed demonstration system

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Passengers trying the new system. Any money collected was given to charity as the company had no franchise yet.

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The system never got beyond the prototype stage and was shut down after a few years. New York suffered for decades with a smelly sooty elevated railroad system before subway took root in the next century.

In 1912 the building above the terminal burned down and parts of the tunnel were unearthed.

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Modern construction has removed virtually all traces of the system - but I'm sure one of you Citynoiser would like to prove me wrong ;0)

This article has been viewed 32515 times in the last 5 years

adam: Great article!

CartLegger: 8th Apr 2009 - 13:49 GMT

Yep. It really belongs here. Wish we could find it!

The real issue of Beach's subway is not the nature invention, but the stubborn determination on the part of Tammany Hall not to allow a subway to compete with the elevated track's monopoly.

Reminds me a bit of today's stubborness as concerns bridge tolls.

Franny Wentzel: 8th Apr 2009 - 13:57 GMT

Once The State has an open pathway to your pocketbook it's hard as hell to close it again.

JoeyD: 8th Apr 2009 - 14:08 GMT

I think it is amazing how important that pneumatics have remained and how conceptually ahead of its time a system like this could have been

Peter: 8th Apr 2009 - 14:13 GMT

totally... it was like the victorian version of .

nice post franny- thanks for coming through with this one! its got me itching to find out if any remnants of it are still around, despite the fact that all sources so far point to no, heh.

Franny Wentzel: 8th Apr 2009 - 14:27 GMT

Here's a picture of the building fire that exposed the tunnel entrance...

image 32240

Amazing that they were able to save the middle tower with that kind of damage.

Joe Brennan: 8th Apr 2009 - 19:08 GMT

Franny: Would it hurt to credit the source of all these images? Besides finding the originals in many different publications and laying them on a scanner I had to do digital cleanup to make them look this good. Way more than anyone wants to know is at

CartLegger: Actually state Senator Tweed introduced the first bill in favor of Beach in 1870. It was in the newspapers. Probably Tweed was going to supply the laborers from constituents in his district, and possibly get some stock, but I am guessing on his motives. By 1872 Beach was telling a new story about Tweed opposing him, which many people since then have repeated, so that he would get support from the reform people.

Sean Hopkins: 8th Apr 2009 - 20:39 GMT

These pictures are on the wall in the Subway (sandwich place) near me. I am enlightened.

Franny Wentzel: 8th Apr 2009 - 21:48 GMT

A thousand apologies. I'd linked to the Wiki article so people would have links to all the sources I'd gone through. Yours was the first of theirs. Wish there was a cleaner way to do hyperlinks on this blog.

A reprint of an 1870s article.

Anais NIN: Public-domain photos are public-domain.

tyrant: very nice article

i don't have a name: 6th Oct 2009 - 21:46 GMT

I agree with CartLegger.
They should open and extend the pneumatic tube as a museum piece or something.

97: america should use a pneumaric railway as transport

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