Nonfiction | March 02, 2021

Although widely ridiculed for the statement, the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was right when he said, “The Internet is a series of tubes.” He was just off by a century.

          Starting in the mid to late nineteenth century, pneumatic tube postal services linked post–telegraph offices with each other in every major financial hub in the world, on every continent but Antarctica. As improbable as it seems, propelling messages through hundreds of kilometers of subterranean tubes and pipes was a good solution for delivering messages across a busy city jammed with carriages and motorcars. The first pneumatic post system opened in London in 1853; New York’s pneumatic post shuttled first-class mail across the Brooklyn Bridge till 1953, their postal workers called “rocketeers;” the Prague system was in operation till 2002. Paris’s Poste pneumatiquewas the most extensive, encompassing some 450 kilometers of tubes in 1945, and it wasn’t until 1984 that telephone service became reliable enough to merit shutting down the Poste Pneumatique. There were many more pneumatic postal systems in more than sixty cities around the globe.

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