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Pneumatic power

Operation of a car by pneumatic power would amaze people even today.  It is difficult to realize that the tunnel itself was at least equally amazing in 1870, and was the key component to Beach’s plans.  Beach devoted the greater part of his time on the project to convincing people that the tunnel was solid and would not damage buildings and the street surface.  Many visitors came just to see the tunnel. 

The car operated only part of the time.  While the exhibition was open from 10 to 5, two surviving tickets of different design, both undated, are good for rides to be given on Monday, Wednesday or Saturday, 1-30 to 3-30.1  The Illustrated Description of 1870 describes even more restricted hours:  The great number of visitors constantly in the tunnel, eager to walk under Broadway and examine the great boring-machine, renders it impossible to run the passenger-car during the regular hours alloted for public admission.  The evenings have therefore been reserved for the purpose …2

The Roots blower

The Roots blower itself was available for inspection at all times, and the company took pains to impress visitors with the machinery. 

Roots blowers are not just a nineteenth century curiosity.  Dresser, Inc, the successor to the Roots firm, still makes Roots blowers that work on the same ‘positive displacement’ concept invented by the brothers Francis and Philander Root in 1854.  One of the applications for which they are used is pneumatic tube systems.  Their product line however are all considerably smaller than the special one that Beach ordered.3


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An excerpt from the Dresser online catalog, 2004, shows one of the currently available models of Roots blower, and explains how it works.  (See for more models and details.) A diagram from Scientific American of March 5, 1870, below, shows that the Western Tornado was just a much larger version of the same type of blower.

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The Herald provided a full description of THE MOTIVE POWER including an inexplicable remark about its state of origin. 

In this atmospheric system of propulsion the blower takes the place of the locomotive, and the passengers and freight are literally blown to their destination.  The term blower is used to designate a machine producing a blast having a positive force, and to distinguish it from a fan, which does not produce a force-blast.  In this respect a blower is analogous to cylinders used for producing blast.  In either case the air forced must find an outlet or the machine must stop.  But a fan can run with the outlet obstructed or entirely closed, without being in the least impeded.  The friction of the machine itself, in its operation, is so light that nearly the whole power applied to it is spent upon forcing the blast forward.  Another point of superiority in the blower is its areal durability.  Dust, which is invariably caused wherever there is agitation or a current of air, has no injurious effect whatever, as there are no slides or valves requiring oil and liable to be soon coated over with dust when in operation.  The blower is known as Root’s Patent Force-blast Rotary Blower, and the principle of it is greatly in use in the West, in all forges, instead of the old blacksmith’s bellows.  It is an Indiana invention, and is one of the few good things that come from that state.  This blower is twenty-one feet high, thirteen feet broad, and eighteen feet long, and, with its appendages, occupies quite a suite of cavernous rooms, independent of the steam engine and boiler house. 

It is difficult in a verbal description to bring before the mind of the reader the mode in which the wind is raised by this blower.  Looking at it over the brick walls that encompass it, two massive pieces of iron that resemble wings are seen, and these force the air by rolling together and produce a positive blast through the wings.  The air is drawn in by one side of the blower and passes out at the other and into a duct that leads into the mouth of the tunnel under Broadway.  This blower will deliver or exhaust the air in the tunnel at the rate of 120,000 cubic feet of air per minute with sufficient force to carry a train of passengers.4

Similarly Scientific American mentioned the machinery in an article the week before the ceremonial opening: 

The present apparatus in the basement of the building at the corner of Warren street and Broadway, comprises a stationary engine of one hundred horse-power, with boiler, and a Root’s Pressure Blowing engine, capable of delivering to the tunnel one hundred thousand cubic feet of air per minute.5

The fullest description is given in the 1870 edition of Beach’s Illustrated Description booklet: 

This immense æolor is by far the largest machine of the kind ever made.  It consists of a great shell of strong iron, twenty-one and a half feet high, sixteen feet long, and thirteen feet wide, containing two pairs of massive wings, geared together by cog-wheels, and so arranged that the air is drawn in upon one side of the machine, carried through between the wings, and forced out on the other side …

This remarkable machine weighs fifty tons, or rather more than a common locomotive engine.  The æolor is to the pneumatic railway what the locomotive is to the ordinary steam railroad.  The locomotive supplies the power to draw the car ; the æolor gives motive force to the air by which the pneumatic car is moved.

The æolor is capable of discharging over one hundred thousand cubic feet of air per minute, a volume equal in bulk to the contents of three ordinary three-story dwelling-houses.  The machine makes sixty revolutions per minute.

It is by the enormous air-current generated by such machines that trains of cars are impelled upon the atmospheric railway at speeds of from sixty to one hundred miles per hour.

The present æolor was made by the patentees, Messrs P H & F M Roots, at their large establishment in Connersville, Ind.  Its cost, set up complete, was about $20,000, and for its transport from Indiana to New-York, a train of five large platform cars was required.  The machine bears the appropriate name of ‘The Western Tornado’.  The Messrs Roots are manufacturers of a great variety of sizes of these blowing-machines, and they are extensively used in iron-melting furnaces, cupolas, etc, in all parts of the country ; the smallest pattern, for blacksmiths’ forges, hardly exceeds the size of a man’s hat …

The upper portion of the æolor, as seen in the ticket-office, is beautifully decorated, and presents no outward indication of being the great reservoir of power we have just described.  To realize this fact we must go down-stairs and look within its capacious mouths.2

The same booklet also quotes the words of ‘a visitor’ as follows: 

After we had had our ride, it was only natural of course, that we should wish to explore the source from whence came the pnuematic pressure that had so mysteriously carried us along under Broadway.  Accordingly, under the guidance of one of the polite officials of the company, provided with lanterns, we entered the air-passage, or duct, which opens into the waiting-room near the mouth of the tunnel.  This passage is fifty or sixty feet long, and four and a half feet high.  As we went in, we felt a gentle breeze ; but after we arrived at the mouth of the great blower, and while we were gazing in wonder at the motions of the gigantic blowing-wings, the engineer put on more steam and increased the speed, so that the blast instantly became a hurricane of frightful power.  Hats, bonnets, shawls, handkerchiefs, and every loose thing, were snatched away from our hands and swept into the tunnel ; while all of us, unable to stand against the tornado, hastily retreated from the machine to a corner of the air-box, where we were slightly sheltered.  At this juncture the speed of the æolor was reduced, the storm was over, and only a gentle summer’s breeze issued from its enormous throat.  We retired from the presence of the machine, some of us thoroughly frightened, and thankful that it did not blow the life out of us.  We had heard that New-York was a great place for ‘blowers’ of various kinds ; but of all the devices in this line, the palm belongs to the great æolor of the underground railway.2

Beach as he usually did took the space to credit the makers of the patent steam boilers that powered the blower, Joseph A Miller and Co, Boston, and of the patent steam pressure gauges, the American Eagle Steam-Gauge Co, Newark.  The boilers were in the vault under Broadway.  To reach the boiler and engine-room, we pass through the door-way near the portal of the tunnel, on the south side, and here we find, located under the pavement of Broadway, two large and splendid boilers … These boilers, nominally of 100 horsepower, are capable of furnishing steam for a 200 horse-power engine … These boilers … bear his celebrated trade-mark, ‘In Calore Vis’, which may be found posted upon the boilers of many of the largest manufacturies of this country and Europe.2  In an age of classical education, even a steam boiler deserved a Latin motto (‘in heat there is power’). 

The cars

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Images of the pneumatic car and tunnel entrance, including the only two photographs, for reference (all of these are shown at larger size in other chapters).  The top images show the vents at the blower and at the end of the tunnel.  Note the height of the car floor in relation to the rail by comparing all the images.  The upper right image, from 1899, shows also the frame of the open platform car.


The start of operation

The many press clippings of February and March 1870 do not describe a ride in the car, because it was not running during the ceremonial opening, something that must have annoyed Beach if it was truly not planned.  Still the tunnel itself and the appearance of the car sent the guests away much impressed.  Harper’s Weekly stated in the March 12 issue that the cars are to be propelled by the atmospheric system as if they were not actually running yet.6

Almost thirty years later, an article in Scientific American recalled the opening of the tunnel in 1870, and stated, About a year later a steam engine and an enormous Root blower was installed and the car was successfully propelled back and forth by air pressure.  The reversal of the air current stopped the car very gently.7  But it is certainly wrong about the the Roots blower, which was installed late in 1869, so it should be disregarded. 

Most likely the car did start running in March.  Details are in the 1870 edition of the Illustrated Description, which was probably compiled and printed as soon as possible after opening.  It is both a souvenir booklet for visitors and a promotional tool for the company in its attempt to get a passenger railway charter.  An article in the Youth’s Companion of February 1871 describes a visit to the tunnel, with the car operating, in one of the hottest of last summer’s hot days,8 but the article repeats so much detail from the 1870 Illustrated Description that it is not entirely clear that the writer of this piece for children actually visited the subway. 


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Detail of the diagram from Scientific American of March 5, 1870, rotated with north at top.  The valves are in position to push the car, drawing air in from the Warren St area.  A single motion by the engineer would move both valves, by means of the connecting rods shown, reversing the flow of air while the blower continues to rotate in the same direction.


Air pressure in the waiting room

In describing the pneumatic operation of the car, the 1870 Illustrated Description refers the reader to the plan of the blower, reproduced from Scientific American (see above).  This is the only description that makes it clear that the station itself was subject to pressure changes, and that it was separated by doors from the entrance room or office. 

Two air-valves will be noticed, which operate in connection with the air passages of the blower or æolor ; and, when they stand in position shown in the plan view, the air is sucked in from the area-way of the building, and moves in the direction of the arrows to the back side of the blower, through which it passes, and is thence driven with great force into the air-flue down through the lower end of the waiting-room and through the tunnel, as indicated by the arrows, to Murray street, where the air escapes into the street through a ventilator.  The iron grating over the ventilator will be noticed upon the Park sidewalk, at Murray street.  When the blower is in motion, an enormous volume of air is driven through the tunnel, which drives the car before it like a boat before the wind.  On arrival of the car at Murray street, the car-wheel strikes the telegraph wire and sends back a signal to the engineer, who shifts the position of the two air-valves, thereby reversing the air-current by causing the blower to suck in the air from the tunnel, and discharge it into the area-way of the building.  In this process of suction the air is drawn in through the ventilator at Murray street and passes through the tunnel to the blower at Warren street, the passenger-car being swept by force of the current back to Warren street, where the wheel again strikes the telegraph wire, gives a signal to the engineer, who again moves the valves, and back the car runs to Murray street.

It is frequently asked whether the passing of the air-current directly into the waiting-room does not make the apartment uncomfortable, by producing therein an undue air pressure, or strong draughts.  A little consideration will show that there can be no such difficulties.  The waiting-room, or station, is built entirely underground, and there can be no leakage of air through it, except when the entrance-doors are thrown open.  These are double-doors, and when one is open the other is closed, all leakage of air being thus prevented.  The atmosphere of the station or waiting-room is, therefore, not disturbed by the rush of air to and from the tunnel, and the visitor is not aware that an alternate compression and exhaustion of the air is going on within the station, unless the eye rests on the pressure-gauge which hangs upon the wall, the rise and fall of which exhibits the changing pressure.

The car runs so easily on the track that only a few grains of atmospheric pressure to the square inch are sufficient to move the car with a considerable velocity.  This pressure is so small that the visitor within the station does not perceive it.  The friction of a car upon a level track is only one four-hundredth part of the load.2

The ‘double-doors’ were an air lock, a vestibule where one passed through one door and then another.  They were even mechanically linked such that one must be closed in order to open the other.  Later editions of the Illustrated Description omit this but mention a little more about the ventilator and details of the car: 

The mouth of the temporary ventilator is covered by a large iron grating, located on the east side of Broadway, within the grass-plot inclosure of the City Hall Park.  A large air-shaft, of masonry, extends obliquely from the grating, passing under the sidewalk and carriage-way to the south end of the tunnel, a distance of 78 feet.  When the car is in operation, the alternate discharge and suction of air through the ventilator is readily perceived by persons who approach near the grating.9

Car design

The wheels of the pneumatic car are provided with separate axles and springs.  The general construction is such that the floor of the car stands below the axle centres, an arrangement which tends to produce steadiness of motion and security from accident.9  It had four wheels, as expected for a car only 18 feet long, the size of a four-wheel horsecar.  The unusual part is that the wheels had separate axles, not two axles with a wheel at each end, which must be the meaning since the floor was below the axle centers.  Two similar illustrations of the car bear this out:  the floor of the car is clearly below the level of the rails.  The wheels were located under the four seat sections. 


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This view of the car interior from Harper’s Weekly of March 12, 1870, is similar in many details to the one from both Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Scientific American (see the previous chapter).  The car floor is clearly below the top of the running rails in both views, proving that the four wheels were separately mounted.  The edge of a wheel may be visible under the seat at left.


Powerful brakes are placed at each end of the car, so made that the brake-shoes press upon a central rail, laid on the floor of the tunnel, midway between the two ordinary rails, as shown in the engraving.  By means of these brakes the car may be lifted bodily, and its entire weight brought upon the brake-shoes, which slide upon the central rail, and quickly bring the car to a halt.9  All the illustrations of the track show the brake rail or the flat cover that was put over it in the station and the curve when the cars were not running.  It was not covered in the straight part of the tunnel.  Less sure-footed visitors could stop at the end of the curve and say they had seen the entire tunnel.

Riding in the pneumatic car

In addition to the description already given, the 1870 edition also included the words of a visitor, who recently formed one of a party of ladies and gentlemen who enjoyed the evening atmospheric ride.  Part of this was adapted into running text for later editions. 

We took our seats in the pretty car, the gayest company of twenty that ever entered a vehicle ; the conductor touched a telegraph wire on the wall of the tunnel ; and before we knew it, so gentle was the start, we were in motion, moving from Warren street down Broadway.  In a few moments the conductor opened the door, and called out, Murray street! with a business-like air that made us all shout with laughter.  The car came to a rest in the gentlest possible style, and immediately began to move back to Warren street, where it had no sooner arrived, than in the same gentle and mysterious manner it moved back again to Murray street ; and thus it continued to go back and forth, for I should think, twenty minutes, or until we had all ridden as long as we desired.  No visible agency gave motion to the car, and the only way that we inside could tell that we were being moved by atmospheric pressure was by holding our hands against the ventilators over the doors.  When these were opened, strong currents of pure air came into the car.  We could also feel the air-current pressing inward at the bottom of the door.  I need hardly say that the ventilation of the pneumatic car is very perfect and agreeable, presenting a strong contrast to the foul atmosphere of ordinary city cars.  Our atmospheric ride was most delightful, and our party left the car satisfied by actual experience that the pneumatic system of traveling is one of the greatest improvements of the day.2

Having thus described our experience in the car, I ought now to tell you how it was done.  You must know that a telegraph wire runs through the tunnel, which is so connected with the track that the wheels of the car touch the wire at certain points, and cause a bell to be sounded in the main building, where the æolor, or blowing-engine, is situated ; and when the engineer hears the bell, he pulls a rope, which operates an air-valve, so as to let in or change the air-current in the tunnel.  For example, just before our car stopped at Murray street, the wheel of the car sent the signal to the engineer, who shifted the valve, when instantly the blowing current was changed to a suction current, which drew us back to Warren street ; and just before we arrived there, by another signal, the current was again changed, and down we went to Murray street.2

The air presses directly against the end of the car, and we were carried along just like a sail-boat before the wind.  A car mounted on a track is moved much easier than a boat upon the water, because the vessel encounters great resistance in displacing the water, while the car merely has to overcome the friction of the wheels, which is only one four hundredth part of its weight.  Therefore only a small air pressure is needed to drive the pneumatic car.  An atmospheric pressure of one quarter of an ounce to the square inch, is sufficient to drive the car forty or fifty miles per hour.  At the time of our ride, the velocity was perhaps six or seven miles per hour, and the air pressure was only a few grains to the inch.2

I ought to mention that down near Murray street there is a ventilator extending from the tunnel to a grating on the sidewalk, through which the air column enters and leaves the tunnel.2

The relatively low pressure needed for successful operation was remarked on in Manufacturer and Builder as late as July 1874:  The most important fact demonstrated with the experimental track, for some time in practical operation under a part of Broadway, has been that with an air pressure of only ¼ pound to the square inch of transverse car section, thus one-sixtieth of the pressure above, or below that of normal atmosphere, a train may be pushed or drawn safely at the rate of 60 and even 100 miles per hour.10

The account in the Youth’s Companion for February 1871, a magazine for children, appears to summarize the same account.  If the ‘visitor’ was not a figment of Beach’s imagination, perhaps she was the writer of this article.  The story brings the reader along on one of the hottest of last summer’s hot days.  At that time, the blower created a most unaccountable but altogether delightful breeze at the corner of Broadway and Warren Street.  The writer describes walking to the end of the tunnel to see the shield (quoted in the previous chapter).  She also takes a ride on the car. 

Taking your seat, and the doors at both ends being closed, the engineer or conductor touches a telegraph wire on the wall of the tunnel, and in a moment the car is in motion, but so gently that you hardly believe it, till, opening the door, the conductor calls, ‘Murray Street!’ and in another moment you are back at the original starting point at Warren Street.  And what has done it?  Neither steam nor horses, but air alone.  Two powerful steam engines force air into the æolor or blower, which is made to take the place of the old-fashioned leather bellows, and which sends or can send a perfect tornado of air through the tunnel.  This blast of air, graduated at will, pushes the car forward at a rate of from two to sixty miles per hour.  The car is so arranged that by pressing a brake a signal is telegraphed to the operator in the engine room, who, by shifting a valve, changes the current from a blowing in to a suction one, which draws out as fast as it before sent in.  So you can ride back and forth, growing more and more delighted with the clean, dry, quiet tunnel, and the pure, fresh air of the car.  A deep rumbling noise from the wagons and carts overhead is the only reminder of the outward world.  Snow and dust, heat and cold find no kingdom here.  Warm in summer and cool in winter, the tunnel is and will be as even in temperature as the Mammoth Cave, and the weary man or woman who spends hours daily in getting to and from business, may, when that joyful day of a completed underground railroad comes, allow five minutes for going five miles, and sleep in peace till seven in the dark winter mornings, or ride and walk in the bright summer ones.8

Judging by the descriptions, the car was in the tunnel when the ride started, because the conductor signalled the start by touching a telegraph wire on the wall of the tunnel.  The car would have been light enough for one or two men to push it from the station where it was exhibited into position for rides.  The very small amount of force needed to move it by air pressure is emphasized in the same description.11  The doors were on the end of the car, not the side, so passengers could go and in and out with the car standing in the tunnel portal.  When the car was not running, it was brought out of the tunnel, by momentum or by hand, so that visitors could get a good look at it and walk around it into the tunnel portal. 

The later editions of the Illustrated Description promoted the ride itself: 

Many thousands of persons have enjoyed the atmospheric car-ride under Broadway, and the company’s establishment forms one of the most interesting attractions of the city … The ride under Broadway is a novel and enjoyable experience.  The air is always fresh and pure ; there is no dust or other annoyance, and the car moves along with smoothness and rapidity …9

There was even speculation that single cars would be run in production.  Assuming that a brakeman was needed in each car in any case, single cars would not cost more to run than a train. 

One of the advantages of the Pneumatic Railway for city transit is, that the cars may be run either singly or in trains, without additional machinery or cost.  The more frequently the cars run the better are the public accommodated.  On ordinary steam roads, if the cars are sent singly, a locomotive must accompany each car, which would be expensive ; hence, the practice is to run the cars in trains.  It is probable that pneumatic cars could, for the same expense, be dispatched through a Broadway tunnel much oftener than locomotive trains could be run.9

Advertisements for Beach Pneumatic Transit, I


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Classified ads, 1870.  Above:  Tribune of March 11 and Times of August 20.  The PNEUMATIC TUNNEL lead was usual for the first six months.  Below:  Herald of November 15 and Times of November 21.  By the last quarter of 1870 the BROADWAY UNDERGROUND RAILWAY lead was standard.  There is no sign in the ads of any change on November 18.

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Renovations and the second car

Some changes were made in November 1870.  It seems as if the car had not operated for an unstated period of time before this special day, November 18.  The tunnel itself had been open as is shown by the usual classified ads appearing during the previous week.  It is not clear from the news reports how much of the detail they mentioned was new at this time, or was just information for the reader.  The operation of the cars— plural— sounds almost like a new feature. 

The Beach Pneumatic Transit Tunnel was again thrown open yesterday for the inspection of members of the press.  Various improvements have been lately made in the æolor, or the air propelling machine, and several passenger cars have been built.  Kerosene lamps are now substituted for the oxy-hydrogen light formerly used.  The cars move at the rate of seven miles per hour, the shortness of the tunnel preventing their running at the full speed of forty miles, which it is claimed they can attain.  The car conducts itself.  At certain points the wheels press a telegraph key, signaling the engineer, who reverses the air current, causing the car to return.12

Two hundred yards or so of the pneumatic tunnel under Broadway, beginning at Warren street, completed up to the present time, were thrown open to the public, and the car was kept running at intervals of ten minutes all through the day … Owing to the shortness of the track, however, the car can be propelled at a rate of about seven miles per hour.  Various improvements in the air compressing machinery have been introduced … During the day crowds of visitors thronged the establishment and TOOK A RIDE in the handsome car and inspected the massive and somewhat complicated looking machinery.13

A large number of persons visited the office of the Pneumatic Tunnel Railway, at the corner of Warren-street and Broadway, yesterday, for the purpose of witnessing a practical exhibition of the working of the new transit system.  The road was in running order, yesterday, and a great many visitors took advantage of the opportunity of being propelled through the tunnel by atmospheric pressure.  The car became out of order at one time, and caused considerable delay.14

The Tribune mentions ‘several’ cars while the Times and the Herald mention only one.  But the 1871 edition of the Illustrated Description booklet describes a second car that was an open car.  It must have been similar to the one used at the American Institute fair.  The booklet says, When there is an unusual rush of visitors at the Broadway tunnel, an additional platform-car is employed, on which comfortable settees are placed, for twenty-five or thirty passengers.  This car is provided with a wooden sail at one end, against which the atmospheric current presses.9  The wheels and frame of the second car appear in a photograph taken in 1899, shown above, this chapter.  The remains have always been identified as part of the first car, seen behind it, but the higher floor of the frame makes that impossible. 


Advertisements for Beach Pneumatic Transit, II

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Classified ads, 1871.  Above:  World of February 11 and Tribune of March 1.  Below:  Herald of April 1 and Times of April 3.  The latter was the last date the ads ran in any paper.

[ 6-9 ]


The end of operation

Advertisements for the ‘Pneumatic Tunnel’ and ‘Broadway Underground Railway’ ceased in April 1871, when the company’s second bid for passenger operation failed.  However it continued to operate.  Beach wrote in 1873 that after the veto in 1871, the experimental section of railway under Broadway was kept open and operated, and continued to be visited by large numbers of visitors,15 and likewise after the veto of 1872, their railway premises were still kept open for the inspection of the public.16

Further use by Beach Pneumatic Transit

In the meantime, young Frederick Beach formed F C Beach & Co to bring in some income.  In July and August 1871 issues of Scientific American a small ‘Business and Personal’ notice reads, Wanted to purchase, an established business, or an interest in a business.  Chemical or manufacturing preferred.  Address, by letter, F C Beach, 260 Broadway, cor Warren st, New York city.17  He found something.  Boyd’s New York State Directory, compiled in the second half of 1871, carries a display ad for the Champion Spring Mattress, available from him at 260 Broadway.18  The 1872 edition of the Illustrated Description carried a full page ad for the Champion Spring Mattress on the inside back cover. 


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Listings and display ad from Boyd’s New York State Directory.


Scientific American in March 1872 mentioned the car being in operation.  This tunnel, it will be remembered, extends from the Broadway Bank, at Murray street, passing under Broadway northerly to Warren street, where, on a curve of 50 feet radius, it turns into the Company’s passenger station.  This railway is worked on the atmospheric plan and has been in practical operation for some two years.  Thousands of passengers have enjoyed the atmospheric ride under Broadway, finding it an agreeable and novel method of travelling.  In fact, the Broadway Underground Railway is one of the most attractive curiosities of the city … The car in use is of about the same size as the ordinary street car, having seats for twenty-two passengers.19 

In November 1872, another article states, A working section of this form of railway has now existed here for the past two and a half years, having been built at private expense, for the express purpose of showing to our citizens how excellent and practical the plan is …  Many thousands of people have enjoyed the ride.20 

Manufacturer and Builder referred to the tunnel as in operation in its May 1873 issue, which was probably on sale in April.21  It was in that month that the company finally got the legislative act allowing construction of an underground railroad.  With that, the purpose of the demonstration line was finally achieved, and the money-losing operation was brought to an end not long after. 

In November 1873, a Times article reviewing the history of the company used in passing the telling phrase, at the time this experimental tunnel was in operation22— a time now past.  But in the same month, Scientific American reported on a large and splended working model of Saxby & Farmer’s railway lock switches that could be seen at the office of the Broadway Underground Railway, corner of Warren street and Broadway, this city.  The English engineer Saxby invented the interlocking plant, a system that coordinates setting switches and signals by locking out conflicting and dangerous settings.  It was still a new idea in the United States in 1873.  We are glad to know that this valuable improvement is to be employed upon the Broadway Underground Railway.  Further information can be had of Mr Joseph Dixon, agent for this country, as above, where the apparatus may be seen.23  So Dixon too was running a business on the side, if a related one. 

The original five-year lease of Devlin’s basement at 260 Broadway ended on December 1, 1873,24 but the Beach company extended it for another two years to accommodate ongoing projects.  In December of 1873, Scientific American reported on a very simple and convenient little electrical device called the Miniature Telegraph, the invention of Mr Lawrence Duerden, telegraph engineer of the Broadway Underground Railway.  It sounds like an application of the device used to signal the blower engineer when the cars reached the end of the track.  It consists of a pretty little electric bell, and simply lets a person at one point push a button to ring the bell at another.  It was suggested this might be used to summon an employee to an office.  The device is so simple that any person of ordinary intelligence may put up the wire and set into use, consisting of a bell, a wire, and a battery and chemicals.  All this was available from F C Beach & Co, No 260 Broadway, corner Warren street, New York.25  It was sold as the Tom Thumb Telegraph, and young Beach suggested in his small ads that it could be put in operation by any lad.26  By April 1874, F C Beach & Co had added Permanent Steel Magnets of any form or size to their eclectic product line available from 260 Broadway.27

The pneumatic railway and all of its allied businesses moved out in December 1875.  On December 14, the Parks department sent a letter to A E Beach, Esq, President Broadway Underground Railway Co, 260 Broadway, informing him, At a meeting of the Board of this Department, held yesterday, you were granted permission to occasionally open the iron grating over your railway shaft, at the City Hall Park, under such directions as the Superintendent of Parks … shall prescribe.28  This permission gave Beach direct access to his company’s tunnel without using Devlin’s basement.  However, this access was not needed immediately, because Beach leased the tunnel to the same company that next leased the basement. 

The station and tunnel as a rifle range


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Left:  ad from Forest and Stream for December 23, 1875.  Right:  Devlin’s building as seen in an 1876 city guidebook.


The new business in the basement of 260 Broadway was a combination rifle shop and firing range.  The shop was Homer Fisher, and the range was called the Creedmoor Junior Range.29  Interest in rifles had grown during the Civil War, and the National Rifle Association, formed in New York in 1871, opened a range on a large property at Creedmoor in 1873 that was used to train members of the National Guard and young men interested in military service.  Once some gentlemen formed an amateur group, rifle shooting became a fashionable sport and there were competitions with teams at home and in Europe.  The Times reported in January 1876, The tunnel at the corner of Broadway and Warren street, formerly constructed for an underground railway, has been utilized for a rifle range.  The targets are of reduced dimensions, corresponding with those in use at Creedmoor at 200 and 500 yards.30

Forest and Stream reported in December 1876 on the start of the new season at the Creedmoor Junior Range, where there was now a second room, comfortably lighted and seated, which makes it possible to avoid the crowded state of the single room of last winter.29  The distance available was said to be 100 yards.  The only available distance of near that measurement was the Beach tunnel, which was really about 250 feet straight.  Given the tunnel diameter most likely no more than two members could shoot at a time.  The range was open only in the winter months when Creedmoor itself was closed, for off hand shooting.  But Homer Fisher offered it for use all year for his customers to try out the rifles he was offering for sale. 


[ 6-12 ]

Ad from Forest and Stream for March 21, 1878.


Closing up the tunnel

Both Fisher’s store and the Creedmoor Junior Range continued until December of 1878.  An open competitive match was held December 21.29  After that they both disappear from the record.  In June 1880, C Godfrey Gunther, once mayor of New York and associated in local railway history with the West End line to Coney Island, used the Creedmoor Junior name without comment for a small range he established at Locust Grove.30

Therefore the separation of the Devlin and Beach properties probably occurred some time in 1879.  Anyway, at some unrecorded date, the Devlin company as owners of the building restored the stone wall at the portal.  Later evidence shows that the cars were moved into the tunnel before it was sealed.31  How the cars survived the shooting gallery period is a mystery.  Why were they not broken up and taken away?  Did they obstruct the entrance of the tunnel or shorten the distance at the end?

Devlin’s moved uptown in 1889, and the entire building was then occupied by the Rogers, Peet clothing company.  The basement levels were used to store cloth. 

1 Ticket in Museum of the City of New York collection, and ticket shown in in Stan Fischler, The Subway.
2 Beach, Illustrated Description 1870 only.
3 Dresser Inc web site.  See links About Us and Roots History, at
4 Herald, 1870 Feb 27.
5 Scientific American, 1870 Feb 19.
6 Harper’s Weekly, 1870 Mar 12.
7 Scientific American, 1899 Apr 15.
8 Helen C Weeks, in The Youth’s Companion, 1871 Feb 2.
9 Beach, Illustrated Description text common to 1871 and 1872 editions.
10 Manufacturer and Builder, 1873 July.
11 Cable cars in San Francisco are pushed by one or two people in the barn, and they are heavier than Beach’s car since they have the iron grip mechanism in them.
12 Tribune, 1870 Nov 19.
13 Herald, 1870 Nov 19.
14 Times, 1870 Nov 19.
15 Beach, Beach Pneumatic Transit Company’s Broadway Underground Railway, 25.
16 Beach, Beach Pneumatic Transit Company’s Broadway Underground Railway, 26.
17 Scientific American, 1871 Jul 22, Aug 19, and other dates.
18 Boyd’s New York State Directory. In the Preface, Andrew Boyd apologizes for a publication delay he blames on the shortage of supplies caused by the Chicago fire (October 1871), so the directory information seems to date from 1871.
19 Scientific American, 1872 Mar 16.
20 Scientific American, 1872 Nov 2.
21 Manufacturer and Builder, 1873 May.
22 Times, 1873 Nov 1.
23 Scientific American, 1873 Nov 8.
24 Lease from Devlin and Company to Beach Pneumatic Transit Company.  Museum of the City of New York.
25 Scientific American, 1873 Dec 6.
26 Scientific American, 1874 Jan 3.
27 Scientific American, 1874 Apr 18.
28 J J M Irwin [name not clearly legible], Secretary, Department of Public Parks, to A E Beach.  Museum of the City of New York.
29 Forest and Stream, 1875 Dec 16, Dec 23.
30 Times, 1876 Jan 16.
29 Forest and Stream, 1876 Dec 21.
29 Forest and Stream, 1878 Dec 26.
30 Forest and Stream, 1880 Jun 17.
31 The stone wall and the remains of the cars are seen in photographs in Scientific American, 1899 Apr 15.

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