Cable systems

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Cable system at Abraham and Strauss

Photograph of the Abraham and Straus Department Store, Brooklyn. J. Byron New York interiors at the turn of the century

A very detailed account of a cable system is given by the reporter of the Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW) on 28 October 1911, p.8:

"Some time ago Mr. C.E.Moore, of the firm of Pellew and Moore, visited Melbourne and Sydney, and whilst in those cities his attention was directed to a 'cash carrier' in use in one or two of the leading houses there. He was greatly taken up with the new idea, which appealed to him, more particularly from the standpoints of quickness, compactness, and utility. He saw that the old ball system had outlived its usefulness, and it had to make way for something more modern and up-to-date in the shape of the Lamson perfection cable system, and accordingly set about making the necessary arrangements for the installation of the system.

To-day the cable was given its first run at Pellew and Moore's establishment, and as far as could be seen by a 'Miner' reporter, ran smoothly.

The cable system is a power operated cash carrier, and may be classed as an intermediate between the ball cash railway and pneumatic tube. The tracks are made of specially manufactured cold drawn steel rods, with supporting brackets. The cash boxes,which are made of high class stamped steel, are fitted with the necessary grips to fasten on the ever-travelling cable,which are thrown out of gear by patent clutches at, or near, the receiving stations. The speed maintained is such as to enable each box to travel at a rate of from 600 to 900 feet per minute round corners, upstairs, downstairs,through walls, etc., with equal facility. At the various corners an ingenious device is fixed to tho horizontal wheels which throws off the clutch and frees the carriage from the cable in its spin round the corners only to be taken up again after they have been safely negotiated. A receiving-station, or cash desk, has been fixed between the showroom and the men's department, and here the whole of the cash is concentrated,which means a saving in time to both customers and assistants, as well as a reduction in the number of cashiers.

The travellers occupy but little space, the cables revolve almost silently (excepting for a buzzing sound), and the whole is driven by a two h.p. electric motor. There are 18 assistants' stations installed, each station being provided with three boxes. The boxes are numbered consecutively, and by a simple contrivance are so set that they will only return to the station from which they have been dispatched. As, for instance, No. 10 will be found at no other station than No. 10, and so on.

Mr. Moore expressed himself as highly pleased with his latest achievment, which will cost the firm something like £600 when completed.

Besides the installation of the cash railway, the premises are being enlarged."

Joseph C. Martin of Vermont first patented a cable system in 1882 and formed the Martin & Hill Cash Carrier Company in Florence, Mass. In June 1887, the company won a lawsuit against a "certain company" (Lamson?) who threatened to sue "each and every company" who used their system. Another case in 1894 between Martin and the Company attempted "to suppress the defendant from further patents on the machine". The company was presumably acquired by Lamsons and Lamsons was using over 500 miles of the special cable cord per year in 1912.

According to Berwickshire News and General Advertiser, 1 May 1906, p. 4, the first shop to use the Lamson cable system was the Boston Store in Brockton (owned by James Edgar), which was founded in 1890.

They are referred to at several of the Locations in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. When the system was put in Wm. Pettie and Co. in Gisborne, New Zealand by the Lamson Despatch Company in 1913, there were "less than half a dozen in the Dominion". One of these was George & Kersley in Wellington, which was there in 1905. There are photographs showing an electric system at C.O.Millers store on the Stamford History website. There seem to have been few in Britain. The Midland Daily Telegraph, 6 July 1918, reported that there were three in the English Midlands with one just having being installed at Mountford & Jones in Coventry. William Low in Kirkcaldy is also said to have had an electric cable system.

"The Story of a service idea" (American Pneumatic Service Company, 1912) states that "the Cable Cash Carrier has been more highly specialized than any other, it is protected by numerous patents and is among the Company's most profitable assets." It describes the operation of the system thus:

The Cable Carrier System is operated by a small motor which drives a series of endless cables running bewteen light metal tracks, upon which sending and delivery stations are fixed at desired intervals. The raidly running and noiseless cable engages small steel boxes and slides them swiftly along their tracks up, down, around corners, and through partitions, floors or walls to their destination, where they are automatically and consecutively switched off and arrested at the hand of the clerk or cashier.

There were two distinct types which appear to involve low-level horizontal stations and high-level. This is alluded to in the account of the system at Speare's, Nashua, New Hampshire.

Twenty or more stations could easily be operated with a 1 horse-power motor. The motors were usually electric but water-powered systems also existed. At Lock Haven, Penn. a new water main was laid to W.A. Flack's store to power the cable system. An automatic "take-up" adjusted for variations in length of the cable due to changes of temperature and kept the tension constant.

Lamson's Bulletin J-2 (ca. 1912) describes the "Lamson Perfection Cable" system. Cash boxes were despatched merely by placing them on the track and pressing a small lever. They were 'keyed' to automatically select and disengage themselves at their particular station on their return trips from the cash desk". The system could carry any required number of cash boxes in either or both directions at once and the speed averaged 10-15 feet per second. Any number of stations from one to eight could be located on a single line. Several cash boxes could be keyed to each station so giving the system a greater capacity than a wire line system (which had only one car for each station). The tracks usually ran in lines parallel to counters, shelving or fixtures, so avoiding overhead obstruction. An automatic "take up" kept the cable tension constant with variations of temperature. Cable systems were seen as the natural successors to wire line carriers. Twenty (or more) stations could be operated with a one horse-power electric motor, usually under the cashier's table.

The Charlotte News of 9 April 1914 reported that the inventor of the Preferred System, Mr George Andrews, was on a tour of inspection among the leading cities whose stores used his method. He stopped at Charlotte (North Carolina) on his way to the branch office at Atlanta.

In the photograph of Abraham and Strauss, the tracks are rather intrusive but the design looks quite elegant Above the stations the carriage passed over a ramp or else dropped down vertically to the counter. The position of the clam p on the box identified which station it belonged to.

Disadvantages according to Whitaker were "derailments were not uncommon, the noise was annoying, and the wires were unsightly. By 1900, pneumatic tubes .. had superseded cables and railways in many stores."

The best late survival was Joyner's at Moose Jaw, Canada and there is still one at the D'Aoust store in Ste Anne de Bellevue, Montreal.

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