Once the dream of modern technology, sending messages and parcels zipping through miles of tubes, powered by air pressure, pneumatic dispatches have all but disappeared.
The Prague Pneumatic Post was one of the world’s most long-lived parcel delivery systems using the technology, running since its introduction in 1889 until flood waters damaged equipment in 2002. It is hoped that the system may yet get up and running again.
At one time similar pneumatic post systems ran under Paris, Milan, Berlin, New York and London.
Already in decline from a heyday in the 1970s, the Prague system suffered a serious blow in 2002 when flood waters put five of the system’s eleven main rooms completely under water and caused extensive damage. As of late 2012, the system is still non-operational but recent plans for restoration may be underway thanks to a purchase by a Czech entrepreneur and pneumatic tube fan.
Today pneumatic dispatch systems are increasingly rare; however, operational examples do exist. A pneumatic system at the New York Public Library sends book call slips into the basement stacks, and several miles of modern tubing deliver specimens and paperwork at the Stanford University Hospital in Palo Alto, California.