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“HIS LIFE’S WORK IS OF PERENNIAL CHARACTER”

1894-1909


Death of Alfred E Beach

Alfred E Beach died on January 1, 1896. 

At the time of his death, the tunnel and cars of his pneumatic railway tube were still in place under Broadway, and some relics of the the station may have remained in the basement of the former Devlin’s clothing store at 260 Broadway.  The matter of a rapid transit railway under Broadway was yet again in the courts, the new 1894 Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners having to petition the Supreme Court because the property owners yet again objected to the loss of their vaults and the disruption during construction.

In the works of his life, in his inventions— many made at so early a date as to be some decades ahead of the proper time for their development— in his services in the world of science as one of the proprietors and virtually a co-founder of the scientific publications of his firm, in the work represented by the thousands of patents procured by his firm for the inventors of America during the last fifty years— in these, his life’s work is of perennial character, and his services to humanity will not soon be forgotten, while the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN will endure as a monument of the life’s work of his firm.1 

The obituary in Scientific American offers the most information ever printed about Alfred E Beach the man: 

His personal habits were of the simplest and most regular description.  He believed that good health depended on regular habits, simple life, early hours, and regular and systematic exercise ; and, although Mr Beach was an unusually hard worker, he scarcely ever during his life had an illness until his last.  He had a great love of music, and the opera was his only dissipation.1 

For society, as such, he had no taste, but all his time, away from the office, was passed at home, among his family, where, as husband and father, and always as closest friend, his gentleness, his sympathy, his ever thoughtful attention to the comfort and happiness of those dependent on him, afforded evidence that here only did he seek the happiness of life, except such as was afforded by the satisfaction with which he successfully pursued his intellectual labors.1 

His regularity of attendance at the office was remarkable.  He never took a vacation.  Year after year would go by without his ever being absent from his desk.  His extensive reading of contemporaneous matter, as well as of books of general literature, gave him, in spite of his apparent confinement, a large horizon appreciable by anyone to whom he opened his mind.  There was a piquancy of thought and originality of mind about him that flavored all his utterances.1 

Beach died of pneumonia at his home, 9 West 20th St, at age 69.2  He left his widow, his son Frederick C Beach (who had worked on the Beach Pneumatic project and was now a company official at Scientific American), and one daughter.  His older brother Moses S Beach had died at 70 in 1892.3 

Beach’s non-transit accomplishments are worth a few lines.  He was born in 1826, and was just 20 when he and his lifelong friend Orson D Munn purchased Scientific American and started their patent agency.  During the 1850s Beach gave a great deal of time to the patent agency, going to Washington every two weeks to personally attend to the applications pending in the Patent Office which had been filed by Munn & Company as a firm, and no solicitor was better known at the Patent Office than he.1  Later the company established a permanent office in Washington. 

Beach was one of the several inventors of the typewriter.  He got a gold medal at the American Instititute fair in 1856 for a machine that could make embossed letters on a strip of paper, to allow the blind to communicate.  It used a keyboard much like any typewriter but required a complicated movement to bring together two dies at once in order to make the embossed letters.4 

At the end of the Civil War, Beach made a large donation to the American Missionary Association to establish a private school for African-Americans in Savannah, Georgia.  It opened in 1867 as the Beach Institute.  The school closed in 1919 after public education finally became available, but the building continued to be used by the Savannah Boys’ Club and other nonprofits.  It is known today as the Beach Institute African American Cultural Center.5 

 

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The Beach Institute.  From Harper’s Weekly, October 3, 1868. 

From the mid 1860s Beach of course worked on pneumatic tube transportation for packages and then for full-sized railway cars.  It is curious to note that the enormous development of pneumatic transportation in this and other cities, on the line of Mr Beach’s work, has taken the direction, not of increasing but diminishing the size of conduit.  Stores and cities are now served by pneumatic conveyance for small packages and letters and similar purposes by means of tubes but a few inches in diameter.  In New York, Paris and other cities, a very large development has been given to the pneumatic system for the transmission of special messages, and by using very light cylindrical boxes and restricting the system to the transmission of very light objects, cars have been entirely dispensed with, the friction between the box and tube not being sufficient to prevent the system from operating.  Comparatively few people realize that Broadway is now traversed by pneumatic tubes for the sending of telegraphic dispatches.  The extensive use of the system in dry goods stores is more familiar.4 

In 1872 Beach began to publish an annual book called Science Record based partly on features that had appeared in Scientific American.  It was replaced in 1876 by a monthly periodical called Scientific American Supplement, which was considered by thoughtful men, who as a class are mostly its patrons, to be the most valuable scientific ‘current opinion’ or ‘review of reviews’ that has ever been published.  Mr Beach took a special interest in this publication, and by his energy and taste for sound reading, his selection of matter for the paper has made it popular and gained for it a very large circulation.  It is not going too far to say that the editing of the SUPPLEMENT by Beach was a labor of love.  Mr Beach was a good Spanish scholar, and the monthly edition of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, published in part in that language, was established at his insistence.  When its circulation had reached the point where the income from it equaled the expenditure he manifested great delight.1 

In 1893 Munn and Company published a set of Star Maps by Richard A Proctor that came with a description of the method of preparing and using artificial luminous stars as an aid in fixing in the mind the names and places of the various stars and constellations, by Alfred E Beach.6  But there is no evidence of a long obsession with astronomy on Beach’s part. 

In a rare signed article in 1894, Beach introduced Scientific American readers to his last publicized invention, the centrifugal bowling alley.  One of the most entertaining as well as hygienic amusements is bowling, he began.  The exertion required to propel the balls involves nearly all of muscular system of the thorax.  The arms, lungs, heart, back, and loins all respond to the movement, and the play is at once healthful and invigorating.  For young people of both sexes it is particularly beneficial.  It develops the limbs and chest, and imparts grace and flexibility to the body.  The obstacle to bowling at home was of course the need for a floorspace 85 feet long and 6 feet wide.  To solve the problem Beach, ahead of his time as always, invented essentially the Hot Wheels track, but for bowling balls.  The inspiration was the recently invented ‘loop the loop’ amusement ride.  The balls are kept within the spiral pathway by centrifugal force, the principle being the same as the well known spiral railway, in which the car sticks to the track, and the passengers keep their seats, although the car flies along bottom upward.7 

 

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The centrifugal bowling alley.  From Scientific American, May 12, 1894. 


Memorials to Beach

Newspapers reported in September 1932 that the New-York Historical Society had ordered a plaque in honor of Alfred E Beach to be placed in the BMT City Hall station, the site of the tunnel.  The plaque will depict the late Mr Beach and a picture of the car used on his subway and was to be finished in October.  It was to be made by Waldemar Rannus, a sculptor who was a friend of Stanley Yale Beach, Beach’s grandson.8  Nothing further was reported, and the station walls, still with the original tilework, show no sign of a plaque anywhere. 

There is no monument to Alfred E Beach in New York. 

In Savannah there is not only the Beach Institute cultural center, but the Alfred Ely Beach High School.9 The Savannah Morning News describes its namesake on the web in 2005:  The school is named after Alfred Ely Beach, who was an inventor and editor of Scientific American magazine, probably best known for providing the funds to buy the land for the Beach Institute which originally housed the school.10 


The Western Union tubes

As noted in Beach’s obituary, ‘Comparatively few people realize that Broadway is now traversed by pneumatic tubes for the sending of telegraphic dispatches&rsquo.  The idea of pneumatic dispatch, promoted by Beach in the late 1860s, had been realized in New York without him.

The success of the Electric and International Telegraph Company’s pneumatic tubes in 1853 (see chapter 2) and the adoption of the technology in other European cities by 1860 did not have any immediate impact in New York.  Pneumatic telegraphy has become quite an institution of the age, wrote a journalist in 1876.  Scarcely a capital in Europe has failed to avail itself of its facilities to complete its telegraphic system.  When stations lie together, close and thick, it is manifestly advantageous to connect them by mechanical means, so as to save, by the transport of the actual telegrams themselves, the multiplication of the wires, apparatus, and clerks ; and especially so when this can be done with a rapidity equal to that of telegraphy itself.11  That is, once a telegram was received at the office and the message written on paper, the company wanted to transport that paper, as long as it could be done quickly.

The Western Union Telegraph Company built a tube system to transmit messages within their new eleven-story office building at 195 Broadway in 1875.  Those of our readers who have had occasion to send a telegraph at the central office above named may remember that, after they had delivered the writing to the clerk, that functionary rolled the paper in a little parcel and inserted in a wood and leather case, a writer in Scientific American observed.  He then dropped the case into an open tube, leading up through his desk, and perhaps announced that the packet had reached the operating room, in the seventh story, almost before the curious watcher of the proceedings had had time to draw his breath.  The system was powered by a Roots blower.12

Inevitably Scientific American needed to add that the system is similar to the design of Mr A E Beach, of the SCIENTIC AMERICAN, for pneumatic postal transmission, which was first put in practical operation on the premises of the Broadway Underground Railway Company, corner of Broadway and Warren street, in 1870-71, … In that example a Root blower was employed in the same manner … Even the smallest bits of thin paper, pennies, envelopes, handkerchiefs of visitors, newspapers, and packages of considerable weight were unerringly transmitted and delivered.  The highest velocity of transmission was between 40 and 50 miles per hour, the pipes being six and eight inches in diameter.  It will be remembered that besides the famous passenger-carrying railway, the demonstration at Warren St also had the small tube system as described here, but evidently only for the first two seasons of operation.12

Beach thought in terms of mailboxes opening directly into pneumatic tubes under the street, for the rapid delivery of each individual letter to a post office.  This was similar what Western Union did within the building.  The general adoption of this system by the post office, allowing that it will operate through tubes of half a mile length as effectively as it does at the Western Union office, would expedite the collection and delivery of city postal matter, and greatly promote the public convenience, wrote Beach, or one of his writers, in 1875.12

The Western Union system was expanded to reach other buildings starting in 1876.  At first the machinery was all at the central office, so carriers were sent out by pressure and drawn in by a vacuum.  The carriers, felt-covered gutta percha cylinders, could travel through the 2¼-inch brass tubes 2,100 feet to the Stock Exchange in 32 seconds, and 3,308 feet to the Cotton Exchange in 55 seconds.13  The second expansion in 1879 brought 1¾-inch tubes to the six morning newspapers around Printing House Square.14 

In 1884 Western Union created a main line of four tubes from the central office via Dey St, Broadway, 14th St, and Fifth Ave to their new second main office, 186 Fifth Ave, at 23rd St.  Two tubes carried messages only end to end, but the other pair had three ‘way stations’ in Broadway.  It is the intention in time to extend the system to as to take in the principal hotels, depots, etc, and also private residences, if the business of the occupant should warrant it.  The new tubes were 3 inches in diameter, and the carriers could transport about 100 telegram sheets.  There were now four pumping engines at each of the stations at Dey St and 23rd St, and carriers could travel the 14,500 feet between them in 2 minutes 12 seconds.14 

Some other buildings downtown were connected to the new system, including the Equitable Building and the Produce Building.  The plan was to eliminate shared wires between the 147 offices in the city, and have each connect by its own wire to a few distributing points that would be on the pneumatic tubes.  When the four tubes were laid another wide pipe to carry wires was also installed in the same trench.15  It was around this same time that all the overhead wires in Manhattan were replaced by underground cables.

The tubes were used for decades.  Western Union moved to a new headquarters building at 60 Hudson St in 1930, a huge building now used by a variety of communications companies.  The building included facilities for the pneumatic tube system, which now comprised 25 tube routes with two million feet of single tube, within the area from Times Square to the Battery.  But during the 1930s advances in technology, like teletype machines and telex routing, ate away at the need to send paper messages between offices.  The system outside 60 Hudson St was closed down sometime in the 1940s.16


The Post Office tubes

Beach’s idea of sending mail by pneumatic tubes was finally put into practice in 1897, thirty years after he proposed it and less than two years after his death.  Mail was transported in and out of the city quickly by railway, but local delivery was terrible.  Postal officials admitted in 1896 that in New York it took forty minutes to move mail a little over three miles.17  By this date telegraph and postal pneumatic tube systems were in operation in Paris and many other cities, and demonstrations of the technology had been made in the United States.

The United States Congress appropriated funds in March 1897 for the transportation of mail by pneumatic tube.18  The Post Office itself did not build tubes, but rather contracted with private companies to construct and operate them.  In April the Tubular Dispatch Company headed by John Milholland was awarded a contract to build a system of tubes in New York of about eight inches in diameter.19  There were to be eight ‘circuits’ from the main post office, located at the point of City Hall Park at Broadway and Park Row, running as far as Third Avenue and 125th Street, and across the Brooklyn Bridge to the main +Brooklyn post office.20  Ground was broken on August 2 by Mayor Strong.21 The first routes were to be to the Produce Exchange, Grand Central Terminal, and Brooklyn.22

Ceremonies on the branch to the Produce Exchange (3,750 feet) were held on October 8.  The travel time for this distance was given as 33 minutes by wagon, but the first carrier in the pneumatic tube, sent from the main post office, transported a Bible in exactly 1 minute 30 seconds.  The people at the Produce Exchange sent back a bag with a cat in it.  A ‘speed test’ rocketed a carrier in 56 seconds.23  Although this was the first postal pneumatic tube opened in New York, it was predated by one in Philadelphia, and the third tube opened was one in Boston two months later.24 

The long tube from the main post office to Grand Central Station, three and a half miles, was tested in February 1898.  The carriers took about seven minutes to make the trip.25  The tube to Brooklyn, which ran over the Brooklyn Bridge, opened in August 1898.  This tube was built by the New York Newspaper Mail and Transportation Company.  Travel time from the New York main post office to the Brooklyn main post office was 2 minutes 35 seconds. 26

The tubes did not run trouble-free. On February 23 two carriers on their way to the main post office, one in each tube, somehow came open in transit and spilled letters into the tube.  The letters were ripped apart.  In one tube the next carrier pushed all the paper shreds ahead of it, but in the other the pieces were blown in during the night.  About 600 letters were damaged.27 Near the end of 1898 a new tube from the main post office to the Madison Square branch became jammed.  The carrier would not move, and someone decided to build a fire under the tube to enlarge it and free the carrier.  Although this plan worked, the 150 letters in the carrier arrived more or less burned, and some had to be returned to sender.  Post Office officials said that we will probably not use that system of expansion again.28

The new system faced opposition in Congress as early as 1899, when the House Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads decided against any more appropriations for tubes.  They said that the tubes instead of being a saving to the Government, have been an additional expense, as the delivery wagons which the tubes were destined to replace have been running full time.  Because of heavy volume, only first-class letters went by tube, the rest still going by wagon.  Officials of the Tubular Dispatch Company protested, arguing the advantages in time that the tubes gave to businesses in the city, and claiming oddly that only one or two pieces of mail have been destroyed.29  The Merchants’ Association of New York argued the same points about speed.30  The House relented and money was appropriated.31  The tubes faced opposition again in 1900, this time in the Senate.32  The House took up the opposition again in 1901.  The main argument against the retention of the service is the costliness of it, said Representative Driggs of Brooklyn.  Representative Loud of California, chairman of the committee, thought the tubes in Philadelphia and Boston were not so extravagant, but the system in New York was conceived in sin and born in iniquity.  This time the Senate agreed, and the bill passed by both houses called for the end of pneumatic tube service at the end of the fiscal year.33

The pneumatic tube routes in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston were abandoned in accordance with the law on July 1, 1901.  Businesses in New York began complaining about delayed delivery the next week.  A delegation of business men appeared before the Senate Committee on Post Offices in January 1902 to plead for the re-establishment of tube service.  After some opposition Representative Loud finally reported a bill for pneumatic tube services in March, requiring that expenses for tubes not exceed four per cent of a city’s postal revenue.  The Post Office in New York ran at a profit in those days, so this limitation was not a problem.  A bill for the restoration of tube service passed Congress.34

Tube service in Philadelphia resumed in July 1902.  In New York the Post Office contracted in September with the New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company to restore service over the tube lines that had run from 1897 to 1901, and to construct and operate additional routes.  This was the company that owned the Brooklyn route; it leased the New York routes from their owner, the Tubular Dispatch Company.  Similarly contracts were awarded for the Boston tube and for new systems in Chicago and St Louis.35  Service in New York appears to have been restored in the last quarter of 1902.

The New York system was again threatened in 1905 when the Tubular Dispatch Company failed.  Receivers stopped tube service in October but it was resumed not long after.  Later evidence is that the New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company bought up the tube system, which it was operating under lease.  The system started to expand again in 1906 and reached all the way to Harlem by September 1907.  The system comprised 19 miles of route by 1908.36

 

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The pneumatic tube room at the main post office.  From Harper’s Weekly, April 22, 1905. 

 

The tube system was ultimately doomed by the use of motor trucks to deliver mail instead of horse-drawn wagons.  The tubes never did deliver all the mail between the post offices they connected.  The first truck experiment in New York was carried out in April 1909, with ‘automobiles’ carrying mail between some post offices in Harlem.37

Inevitably the success of motor trucks led Congress to propose the elimination of pneumatic tube transport in 1916.  Men identified with pneumatic tube concerns which have been serving the Post Office for years are mystified by the recommendation of Postmaster General Burleson … that auto trucks be substituted in the delivery of mail in large cities, reported the Times in December.  The value of the tube system in the four cities was reported as seven million dollars.  Once again commercial groups lobbied Congress to keep the tubes because of their advantage in speed.  The New York post office was making a profit of twenty-two million dollars a year even with the expense of the tubes.8

The case against the tubes was what is now called bandwidth.  The capacity of the containers is reported to be five pounds, and the capacity of the tubes is put at four dispatches each minute, or twenty pounds of mail.  If 1,000 pounds of mail are received from a train, all destined for the same point of delivery, a wagon can take it quicker than the tubes.  The argument against was that the trucks moved intermittently while mail could be fed into tubes continuously.  The merchants continually stressed the need to get outgoing mail to long-distance trains on time, where a delay of minutes getting to the train could cause letters to wait hours or a whole day until the next train.  Because New York was the commercial capital, they argued, delays in New York were a national problem.  The tubes were saved again: Congress appropriated the money in January 1917 for ten-year contracts for the four cities.8

Despite the contracts of 1917, the very next year the argument resumed in Congress.  An appropriations bill squeaked through but was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson, who, relying on the reports of experts, said that the tubes were obsolete and did not offer as good mail service as surface motor transportation.  The system closed down for the second time on July 1, 1918.9

Four years later, Congress proposed to restore pneumatic tube service in New York and Brooklyn, and even to enlarge the network to reach additional post offices.  A new postmaster general, Edward M Morgan, said that abandoning the tubes had been a mistake.  Considerable time, it was said, would be required to re-install the tube machinery but the tubes themselves were still in place.  The system was reopened in October 1922, now 27 route miles in size.10

The future finally looked brighter.  Somehow the perception of pneumatic tubes had shifted and they were now futuristic, not old fashioned.  In 1936, the Chamber of Commerce proposed that the new North Beach Airport (now La Guardia) should be connected by pneumatic tube to the Manhattan system to handle air mail, and when the United Nations Headquarters was being planned in 1947 it was to be added to the network.38

The third and last abandonment came at the end of 1953.  The Post Office switched to motor trucks on December 1 and a week later pronounced the experiment ‘very satisfactory’.  On December 29 the Postmaster General announced that the current contract, which ran to 1961, was being cancelled.  The New York Mail and Newspaper Transportation Company was expected to sue, but it was also expected that a settlement could be reached.  Money was given as the reason.  The Postmaster General Summerfield called the tubes obsolete, unnecessary, and excessively expensive, giving a cost of one million dollars per year, which included $360,000 paid to the tube company, power costs, and the pay of 130 employees.  He said the service could be replaced ‘adequately’ for the cost of two trucks, $25,000.  This is hard to believe, and Summerfield said nothing about speed.  The previous Postmaster General had reported as recently as 1950 that the tubes carried mail in 30 minutes that would take four or five hours by truck.39  Traffic in Manhattan grew more congested every year, so the trucks would not become faster.

Speed was no longer the point.  News that needed to travel fast went by telephone.  Air mail, for an additional fee, brought important letters over great distances fast enough to offset slow local delivery.  The pneumatic tubes in New York were never used again.  Many miles of tubes still lie under the streets today, but broken in enough places to defy restoration.


The New York Parcel Dispatch Company

When the Court of Appeals decided on March 12, 1889, that the New York Arcade Railway Company did not have a valid charter to build passenger railways, the decision stopped short of dissolving the company.  President Melville C Smith told reporters that it left the company nothing of value but the pneumatic-tube charter, which he still considered quite valuable.40  The Beach company would be revived when the Post Office started considering the use of pneumatic tubes for local delivery.

To review: the company was formed as the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company in 1868, renamed the Broadway Underground Railway Company in 1874, and renamed again the New York Arcade Railway Company in 1885.  The only franchise not struck down by the Court of Appeals was the original one of 1868 as amended in 1869.  The company was required to build a line of pneumatic tubes from Warren St and Broadway to a point within 200 feet of Cedar St, and operate it for three months, before proceeding to lay more tubes.  The company had built only about 300 feet of tunnel in 1869 and nothing else for twenty years.  The tubes were to be for letters, packages and merchandise, not passengers, and were limited to 54 inches in size.41 

Whether the old franchise was still valid was not clear.  The company’s own legal adviser, former judge Noah Davis, thought it was not:  I think it is forfeited by non-user, and any court would so decide.  Of course, the Arcade Company by laying claim to the right to build under this charter might scare some other company into buying up the alleged right, but the claim would have no legal standing.42  The city’s corporation counsel told reporters, The company probably has the right to build the 54-inch tube for the transportation of merchandise, but that is all.42 

Eight years passed, and then on January 14, 1897, Senator Ford to-day introduced a bill which proposes changes in the law authorizing the construction of a pneumatic tube for transmission of packages between New York and Brooklyn.43  The law referred to was none other than the acts of 1868 and 1869.  The amendment would change the company’s name to the New York Parcel Dispatch Company and would grant the right to use either pneumatics or electricity as the motive power.  In a significant concession, no tube could be laid or maintained without the consent of the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners,41 who were then making plans for the city’s first subway line.  Senator Ford told reporters that the bill is designed simply to allow the Parcel Dispatch Company to begin the construction of an underground tube at the present Post Office, instead of at the site of the old Post Office in Cedar Street, which was made a terminal point when the charter was granted.44  The new requirement was a much shorter distance than the old: the Beach Pneumatic tunnel ran half of it already.  Among those interested in the company were the estates of Chester A Arthur and William Windom,44 who had been mentioned in 1889 when the company was still planning to build an underground railway. 

The Senate passed the bill on February 18, and so did the Assembly.  In the latter house there had been objections that the bill gave away a valuable franchise without compensation to the city, but it passed unanimously while the two leading opponents had been called out of the chamber— one to have a cigar and the other to meet some actresses.44 

The mayor did not like it, because the bill contained no provision binding the company to give the city anything.  He also referred to the omnibus provision to lay tubes in any streets or avenues  … ‘I think that the people of New York are entitled to know just where these tubes are going to be laid,’ said the Mayor.  Senator Ford declared that the bill had the approval of the Corporation Counsels and Public Works Commissioners of both New York and Brooklyn, and said that it was impossible to designate in the bill the streets to be used.45 

The governor signed the bill on March 18.46  The company had its fourth name, and new life.  As previously stated the United States Congress appropriated funds for postal pneumatic tubes on March 3, and awarded the contract by competitive bid in April.  The New York Parcel Dispatch Company did not win the contract, but its existence was maintained and it still owned the tube under Broadway.  The company directors, as reported in November 1897, included Eugene W Austin, Benjamin F Carpenter, N F Thompson and C P Leggett.47 

 

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Company notice. From the Times, November 8, 1897. 

 

Another eleven years passed.  Then, on November 13, 1908, Congressman Charles N Fowler appeared before the Public Service Commission for the First District to speak about the plans of the New York Parcel Dispatch Company.  The Commission (the successor in 1907 to the Board of Rapid Transit Railroad Commissioners) were holding hearings about a plan from noted engineer William J Wilgus for a system of subway and elevated railways for freight around the edge of Manhattan.  Fowler wanted to add a plan for moving freight into the interior. 

Fowler said, Almost entirely without any disturbance to the surface of the streets, we shall construct a system of tubes in which cars or carriers shall be moved either by electricity or by pneumatic power, and all carriers will be automatically operated; that is, carriers conveying from one to five tons of goods or mail will automatically travel from one station or section of the city to another without human intervention or control.  The size of the carriers will be the same as that adopted at Chicago and Vienna, where like systems are being constructed— that is, 4 by 4 feet, with such length as the best practice demands.  The average speed of the cars or carriers will exceed twenty miles per hour.48 

The Chicago tunnels, opened in 1906, were much larger than four feet round and were operated by engineers riding on the small electric engines.  The proposed system sounds more like the old pneumatic dispatch railways of the 1860s than anything operating in 1908.  The proposal for small tubes and automatic operation by electricity will call to mind the Post Office Railway in London, which was however not proposed until 1911 and not opened until 1925.49

The purpose of the New York Parcel Dispatch system would be to connect docks, railway freight stations, post offices, and stores and warehouses around the city, using cars small enough to be lifted in freight elevators to street level and upper floors of buildings.48  A few more details were made known in a presentation before the Chamber of Commerce in December by Gustav Schwab, chairman of their committee on foreign commerce.  An interesting project for delivering freight has been worked out in a considerable degree of detail, he told them, reenforced by an experimental plant near Elizabeth, N J.  The test line in Elizabeth was 1,200 feet in length, but other details including how it was worked are not now known.  Schwab told the group that the planned system is to be operated by electric power or combined air pressure and suction produced by fan blowers.50

The Commission adjourned before Fowler completed his presentation and he never finished it.  Wilgus’s Amsterdam Corporation likewise awaited action for more than a year.  Late in 1909 the New York Parcel Dispatch Company’s legal counsel sent a letter to the Public Service Commission about constructing a system of tubes to carry parcels around the city.  It stated that important banking interests have recently affiliated themselves with the company and are proposing to go on with a comprehensive scheme of independent construction.51  The law firm, Kraukoff, Mathewson & Harmon, had also represented the Metropolitan Street Railway (then in reorganization), the National City Bank, Consolidated Gas, and the Harriman and Armour families, so speculation was rife as to who was behind the plan.52 

The proposal to the Public Service Commission included another amendment to the charter, to allow the tunnels to be 55 inches in diameter, but company officials wished to emphasize that they were not working their way toward full size subway tunnels.52  The next step would have been for the company’s engineer Lewis B Stillwell and engineers working for the Commission to work out a plan in more detail and then submit a formal application,52 but this was never done.  There was no more news of the company until 1912 when their only real property, the Beach Pneumatic tunnel, was threatened with destruction. 


1 Scientific American, 1896 Jan 11.
2 Times, 1896 Jan 2.
3 Scientific American, 1892 Aug 6.
4 Scientific American, 1896 Jan 18.
5 King-Tisdale Cottage Foundation, http://www.kingtisdell.org/beachinst.html.
6 Scientific American, 1893 Apr 8.
7 Scientific American, 1894 May 12.
8 Times, 1932 Sep 15.
9 Savannah NOW | Our Schools | Profiles, http://www.savannahnow.com/ourschools/schools/beach.shtml
10 Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, http://www.savannah.chatham.k12.ga.us
11 Telegraphic Journal, date unknown, reprinted in Scientific American, 1876 Jan 8.
12 Scientific American, 1875 Apr 10.
13 Scientific American, 1877 Mar 24. Many illustrations.
14 Scientific American, 1885 Feb 14.
15 Times, 1883 Sep 4; 1884 Oct 10.
16 Times, 1928 Aug 22.  George Oslin, The Story of Telecommunications, 255.
17 Harper’s Weekly, 1896 Aug 8.
18 Times, 1897 Mar 4.
19 Times, 1897 Apr 6.
20 Times, 1897 May 5.
21 Harper’s Weekly, 1897 Aug 14.
22 Times, 1897 Aug 29.
23 Times, 1897 Oct 8.
24 Times, 1897 Oct 18, Dec 18.
25 Times, 1898 Feb 12.
26 Times, 1898 Aug 2.
27 Times, 1898 Feb 24.
28 Times, 1898 Dec 30.
29 Times, 1899 Jan 16.
30 Times, 1899 Jan 18.
31 Times, 1899 Jan 20.
32 Times, 1900 Apr 24, Apr 26, Apr 27, Apr 28, May 4, May 18, May 19, May 22. May 27, May 30.
33 Times, 1901 Jan 13, Jan 16, Jan 21, Jan 22, Feb 3, Feb 7, Feb 8, Feb 9, Feb 12, Feb 13, Feb 19, Feb 21, Feb 22, Feb 22, Feb 23.
34 Times, 1901 Jul 9; 1902 Jan 25, Mar 15, Mar 26, Mar 28, Apr 6.
35 Times, 1902 Jul 22, Sep 7, Sep 28,
36 Times, 1905 Sep 21, Oct 23, Oct 24; 1906 Nov 1; 1907 Sep 14, Dec 1; 1908 Nov 11.
37 Times, 1909 May 9.
8 Times, 1909 May 9, Dec 17, Dec 18, Dec 19; 1917 Jan 27, Jan 29.
9 Times, 1918 Jun 29, Jun 30, Jul 8.
10 Times, 1922 Mar 5, 1922 Oct 2. See 1923 Mar 11 for a description of all the routes.
38 Times, 1936 Jul 26; 1947 Mar 17.
39 Times, 1953 Dec 10, Dec 30; 1954 Jan 3.
40 Times, 1889 Mar 13.
41 Documentary History, 20-25.
42 Times, 1889 Mar 23.
43 Times, 1897 Jan 15.
44 Times, 1897 Feb 19.
45 Times, 1897 Mar 7.
46 Times, 1897 Mar 19.
47 Times, 1897 Nov 8.
48 Times, 1908 Nov 14.
49 Colin Karslake, MailRail, http://mailrail.co.uk.
50 Wall Street Journal, 1908 Dec 4.  Length given in Times, 1909 Oct 16.
51 Times, 1909 Oct 16.
52 Wall Street Journal, 1909 Oct 25.
53 Times, 1897 Apr 11.


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