All of the buzz about Elon Musk's Hyperloop has Gizmodo and the Times remembering the original underground compressed air-based transportation idea—Alfred Ely Beach's Pneumatic Tunnel, built in 1869. Beach, the publisher of Scientific American (and son of the New York Sun owner), was also an inventor with a dream was to alleviate the city's traffic nightmare (happy 160th birthday, traffic nightmare!). In 1849 he proposed a tunnel for horse-drawn carriages under Broadway. Soon after, he came up with an even more outlandish idea based on the new pneumatic tube mail transport system in London, and began designing an underground system of circular, brick-lined tubes in which streetcars would be blown back and forth by high powered fans. He patented the design in 1865.
In 1869, Beach successfully lobbied Tammany Hall's famously corrupt Boss Tweed to pass a bill that would allow him to build his pneumatic tube system to transport mail. Then, in secret, under the cover of night, he and his team began constructing the human-sized tunnel. Beach, hoping to make everyone overlook his deception, spruced up the stations with fancy furnishings, frescoes, and a goldfish fountain. More importantly, the tube worked. It opened in 1870 and carried passengers under Broadway between Warren and Murray streets. Unfortunately, its reign was brief and it never got the chance to be expanded into a full-fledged transportation system—the tube was shut down in 1873 after Tweed shifted his support to a plan for an elevated train.
The abandoned pneumatic tube (the idea, not the actual tube) went on to make an appearance as the river of pink slime in Ghostbusters II, where it was referred to as the New York Pneumatic Railroad. Untapped Cities has a look at some of the pneumatic tube remnants around New York City.
· How One Inventor Secretly Built a Pneumatic Subway Under NYC [Gizmodo]
· When the New York City Subway Ran Without Rails [NYT]
· Untapped Mailbag: Where Can I Find Remnants of the Pneumatic Tubes in NYC? [Untapped Cities]