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Dead medium: Pneumatic tubes
From: (John Aboud)

Source(s): New York Times. Sunday, July 5, 1998. City section, page 8 "This Old Technology Hasn't Gone Down the Tubes," by Marcia Biederman. Pevco website:

(((John Aboud remarks: In response to the recent four-part pneumatic tubes story (Notes 34.6-34.9), I want to pass along this article from The New York Times. Pneumatics are alive and well in the medical profession, and in a computerized fashion no less. A case of a dying medium getting a blood transfusion?)))

"This Old Technology Hasn't Gone Down the Tubes

"By Marcia Biederman"

(((John Aboud remarks: there is a photo captioned, "At Columbia-Presbyterian, Marina Conliffe receives blood samples." "Marina" is opening a barrel-shaped canister, which opens like a clam. It doesn't operate like the traditional bank tubes common at drive up windows. The pneumatic station has a digital readout and touchpad. This is likely the computer enhancement mentioned in the article.)))

"Long before E-mail and faxes, pneumatic tubes were widely used in New York to whisk small capsules containing memos or other things from one office to another. Science fiction may have inflated hopes for the tubes, but they are still being used, in old and new ways.

"'They're elegantly simple,' said Mark A. Hirsch, senior project manager for the New York Public Library, explaining why pneumatic tubes were built into the ultramodern Science, Industry and Business Library on Madison Avenue, which opened in 1996. The tube system, which conveys call slips to the stacks, is not much different from the early-20th-century one still used at the 42nd Street research library.

"Gregg Hayes, executive vice president of Pevco, a Baltimore company that installed the new library's system, said hospitals in New York and elsewhere have revived the pneumatic tube industry. New technology, he said, controls the force of air in the tubes, allowing lab specimens and medication to be carried. Carriers used to 'just bang into the stations,' or receiving bins, he said, but now they glide in, and computers can track their movements."


"Pneumatic tubes are also used by Costco, the warehouse-club chain, which has huge stores in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, to move cash from registers to safes. Larry Montague, director of security, said that is safer than having employees walk around with the money.

"But at many of the city's brokerage houses, E-mail has replaced pneumatic tubes. And Sue-Ann Pascucci, manager of the New York Transit Museum archives, said nothing remains of New York's first subway, described by Stan Fischler in "Uptown, Downtown: A Trip Through Time on New York's Subways" as a 312-foot pneumatic tube. Entered via a station with a grand piano, the subway, built in 1870, propelled a 22-passenger car between Broadway and Murray Street until political entanglement closed it in 1873."

(((John Aboud: In my three years in New York, I've noticed that The New York Times is obsessed with abandoned parts of the subway system. The "grand piano" bit is a favorite. Also note that Pevco has a Web site.

(((bruces remarks: Pneumatic *mail* systems (especially pneumatic postal systems owned and constructed by cities and national governments) are very much in decline as a medium. But private pneumatic mail systems for large buildings are still being built today. Pneumatic transfer systems (which don't carry messages and are not "media,") seem to be more or less holding their own as a technology. I would point out that computerizing a pneumatic system is not necessarily a new lease on life for this technology. It may give the system new features, but at a great hazard. It not only spoils the system's original elegant simplicity, but introduces new factors of chip, interface and software death.)))

John Aboud (