The first subway in the city famous for them was illegally built and surprisingly short. It lasted about three year and was pneumatic, like those tubes used by drive-through bank tellers. Alfred Ely Beach is credited with creating the block-long subway, which measured about 300 feet in length. Beach is one of the founders of Scientific American and was looking for a way to prove the power and efficacy of pneumatic tubes. He was inspired by steam-powered subway cars he saw in London and brought the concept home as a way to provide a more luxurious commute. The dream died when the city adopted the elevated platform system in 1875.
Did You Know?
- The pneumatic subway was operational for three years three decades before the Ninth Avenue Line of New York City’s system was built.
- Alfred Beach said he was researching pneumatic systems for mail delivery but created the subway instead.
- Underground tunnels predate even this subway system – trains were using tunnels as far back as 1840.
- The first test of pneumatic tubes for transporting commuters was in 1867 at the American Institute Fair.
- Beach really just wanted to keep the city’s streets clean; transporting 20+ people at once was a bonus.
- To secure funding for his experiment, Beach had to negotiate with the notorious Boss Tweed for approval, which he secured the first time.
- The system only traveled in a straight line, with fans redirecting the car once it reached the end of the track.
- The pneumatic tunnel system was beautiful while it lasted, complete with chandeliers and a goldfish.
- The Panic of 1873 stymied funding for Beach’s dream for three years; by then the city was building an elevated track system.