It may have only been a block long but this subway was opulent, underground and long forgotten.
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.