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Conveyors of various kinds are of course widely used in industry, transport, communications, etc. On this page I include a few examples of similar devices to those used in shops. Pneumatic tube conveyors were in use elsewhere well before their use in shops. Unlike shop systems, other applications sometimes had the requirement to dispatch carriers along the same tube but to different destinations. Lamson's "Pre-selector" system was based on automatic relay of carriers. The carriers were preset for their destination and the exchange could then operate automatically. (Lamson memo of 17 March 1953). See also "Dialled Despatches" under Transport below.
The Cabinet War Room and Goodge Street Deep Shelter were linked by Lamson Tube document transportation system. (Berkley, 'Spy's London' p.46)
Tubes and other systems for carrying messages on paper were common in bunkers and war rooms. Nick Catford described the system at the Leeds War Room at Lawnswood in the uk.rec.subterranea newsgroup on 3/11/01:
"Beyond the stairs down to the lower level is a room with an intriguing message handling system for passing paper messages to the floor below. It consists of a wire basket and a system of ropes and pulleys for lowering the basket to the lower corridor. The basket locks in position in the upper room but can be released by pulling on the rope from below. The system is manufactured by Lamson who are better known for the 'Lamson Tube' a pneumatic message handling system used in many government buildings and still used in some department stores. One section of cord (down to the lower level) has perished and broken off but the basket can still be lowered and raised but only from the upper room. Similar message baskets exist at the Brislington & Birmingham war rooms."
Other systems have been reported at the Manchester Regional War Room, Cheadle and the Battle of Britain Operations Room, RAF Uxbridge (tube system).
At the Armoury pub in Victoria Quay, Shrewsbury, food orders were sent to the kitchen through a modern (plastic) pneumatic tube system. "Now disappeared" according to CAMRA's WhatPub website.
The C1 Espresso café in Christchurch, New Zealand has a pneumatic tube system to deliver "fast food" (mini hamburgers) to six customers' tables at 140 km/h. In 2013 the owner contracted Lamson New Zealand to install 500 metres of clear pneumatic tubing. The food travels in hinged stainless-steel canisters. The café already had a smaller-diameter system to deliver orders dockets to the kitchen. Stuff website
The Lamson CAST system (Casino Automated Secure Transport) is designed for conveying cash, chips and cards to and from the gaming area. Lamson Australia website
An advertisement in Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Mar. 1969, p.5 claims "The completely modernised St James' Hall... For better bingo! With the latest equipment... Rapid wire centralised checking - it all happens before your very eyes." See also the reference from Meadows.
An odd use is alluded to in the Annual Report of the Indiana State Board of Health, 1898, p.93 "Petersburg Sanitary Canning Company: It is now a good plant, except for one thing - the cash carrier system for conveying tomatoes through the process."
Lamson Corp., Syracuse NY, installed the pneumatic tube system in the Original Headquarters Building of the CIA during its construction. The system had more than 30 miles of 4-inch steel tubing. At that time, this system was one of the world's largest. The original system had about 150 stations. The system operated from 1962 until 1989. CIA website
Stella Rimmington, former Director General of MI5, in her autobiography describes a system used there. "In the parts where the railway did not penetrate there was a Lampson's [sic] tube, similar to the system I remember in shops in my youth... You put your paper or whatever into a container and shoved it in a pipe and with a great sucking noise and a clatter, it disappeared - only to pop up in someone else's pipe seconds later." (Rimmington, Stella. Open secret. London:Hutchinson, 2001, p. 97)
A shy GCHQ analyst proposed to his wife by posting his overture in the organisation's tube messaging system, the agency’s historian has revealed. The former RAF serviceman, who joined GCHQ as a linguist, struggled to pluck up the courage to ask her to marry him in person. Instead he wrote a letter to his future wife, who worked in the same building as an analyst on the Soviet air force. Rather than reply using the Lamson tube, she walked round to his office and accepted the proposal in person. The pair were happily married for more than 30 years. GCHQ website
An interesting mix of technologies occurred at the National Insurance office where Lamson carriers were used to convey Hollerith punched cards.
Conveyors are used to carry medical samples to laboratories. Aerocom installed the system at Letterkenny General Hospital in Ireland.
At the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Grenwich (London), "a pneumatic tube system will enable samples to be sent automatically to the pathology lab for analysis. (This is Local London, 28 Nov 2000)
Michael Wofsey writing in wired.com tells of a 9-foot long python escaping from a hospital laboratory through the pneumatic tube system.
Lawrence & Memorial Hospitals in New London (Conn.) had a pneumatic tube service (1980L) from certain units in the older wings to the lab. "Each station had a large sign warning nurses and lab techs to NOT put urine samples in the tube." (Lee Ayrton in alt.folklore.urban newsgroup, 25/4/01)
The University Pharmacy in Helsinki, Finland has a system that delivers drugs from the store by pneumatic tubes. Finland on 3 Pix a Day blog
The Capsule Pipelines website and Encyclopaedia Britannica mention the use of pneumatic tube systems in hotels.
When the Great Western Hotel at Paddington Station (London) opened in 1854, "it offered all mod cons including pneumatic tube-messaging." (Evening Standard, 15 March 2002)
There is a good account of the pneumatic tube delivery system at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, New York, in Scientific American, 16 April 1892, p.243. It was installed by the Miles Pneumatic Tube Company and had been in service for a year and a half. In the busy season it handled 10,000 letters, cards, newspapers, etc. per day. There were 14 tubes, one to each floor, of 3 inches diameter. Messenger boys delivered from each floor station to the rooms.
An item in the Times (28 July 1909, Engin. Suppl. p.18) stated that hotel systems were a speciality of Lamsons. They could be seen at the Ritz, Piccadilly, Cecil and Savoy.
The pneumatic tube system at the Hyatt Regency hotel, Houston is still used by the valet to transport cash, receipts and car keys from the cashier to the various entrances. It is part of a vast system installed when the hotel was built in the 1960s. (Brian Theriot)
Richard Griffin gave an interesting and amusing account of his experience with the Lamson pneumatic tube system at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, which runs through the tunnel under Broad Street - also used by the book conveyor. The tube system is used to carry request slips to the part of the stack where the books are held and is controlled from the centre of the stack on "F" floor. There was also unofficial use for carrying rude messages, keys, and sweets. Soft-centred sweets apparently did not travel well at high speed! (Posting to uk.rec.subterranea newsgroup, 7/3/00)
There is an illustrated description of the pneumatic tube system at Boston Public Library in Scientific American, vol. 73, 9 Nov. 1995, pp. 289 and 297
New York Public Library has pneumatic tubes dating back to its opening in 1911. (New York Times, 5 Sept. 2001)
At Witt's Market, Minneapolis, a wire line carrier was equipped with an enameled tray for carrying meat from the sales counters to the central wrapping department. Merchandise was checked against the sales slip and the customer paid when the merchandise was returned. (Lamson brochure)
The North Bridge building (in Edinburgh) of the Scotsman "had the cutting-edge interoffice communication systems of pneumatic tubes into which message-carrying canisters were inserted with the noise of a wind tunnel." (Scotsman, 27 Nov. 1999)
The new home of the Birmingham Gazette in 1929 had "a complete service of Lamson Pneumatic Despatch Tubes, with a central inter-communicating station" linking up all the departments. "In a few seconds a Lamson carrier, bearing copy for the press or messages between department and deparment, will travel through the longest tube, the speed of the carrier being something over 25 miles an hour." (Birmingham Gazette 16 Nov. 1929, p. 10)
A Berlin dance hall had a pneumatic tube system which allowed the sending of requests for the next dance. Apparently cocktails and roses could also be sent ( Stratford [N.Z.] Evening Post, 31 Mar. 1931, p. 7). Andrew Darwin also reported "a large nightclub" in West Berlin, ca. 1965, where a pneumatic tube system was used for sending billets doux to the occupants of other tables.
"Lamson carrier airtubes provide a complete communication system for the transportation of documents in the Shell Mex building. Lamson Engineering Co. Ltd., London N.W.10." Birmingham Daily Gazette, 6 Apr. 1954, p. 6
The first practical application of pneumatic tube capsules was by Josiah Latimer Clark in 1853. The tube ran between the central offices of the Electric and International Telegraph Company on Telegraph Street in London and their offices at the Stock Exchange. It was 220 yards long and 1.5 inches in diameter and carried messages which had been transcribed from the telegraph. (Encyclopedia Britannica vol. 18, 1957, pp95-96.) Each carrier had a felt pad on the front end to act as a buffer and was covered with leather. A 6 HP steam engine created a partial vacuum in front of the carrier and carriers travelled at 20 feet per second. The original tube was one-way only and empty carriers were returned to the Stock Exchange by messenger. A second tube of 2¼ inches diameter was installed in 1858 from a branch office in Mincing Lane. T.Standage. The Victorian internet. (London:Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998).
The first one outside London linked offices in Castle Street and Walter Street in Liverpool.
Kennedy's article of 1909 (see References) states: In all large towns of the United Kingdom the Post Office has used pneumatic tube services as a valuable auxiliary to the telegraph system. In London the point from which these tubes radiate is the Central Hall at St Martin's-le-Grand. [This is illustrated.] In the majority of cases only one tube is provided between the central station and the outlying office, this tube being worked in both directions... The longest tube working in this country is that between the Central Telegraph Office and the House of Commons .. a length of 3992 yards. The total length possessed by the Post Office is 85 miles.
Other cities had similar systems - Berlin from 1865 and Paris from 1866, known as the 'Carte pneumatique' or 'pneu'. The Paris system later allowed postcards and small letters to be carried at premium rate and was shut down only in 1983. New York, Brooklyn, Chicago and other cities had tubes of 8 inch diameter for postal purposes up to the 1950s. The Encyclopaedia Britannica article and the Capsule Pipelines website have references to many other systems. In 1909 the Times (28 July, Engin. Suppl. p.18) stated that Lamsons had supplied pneumatic tube despatch systems to three Italian cities, Rome, Naples and Milan, to connect railway stations, the stock exchange and the general post offices.
An article in Scientific American, 26 Mar. 1892, p. 199, describes the pneumatic tube system in the Western Union Central Telegraph Office in New York. In the main operating room there were 16 radiating lines with four to six stations on each line. Twenty-four house tubes terminated in the gallery with four street tubes running north to 23rd street and four running south to exchanges below Wall Street.
1.5 inch pneumatic tube system formerly used between Brighton Post Office and Telegraph Office, Ship Street, and now in Amberley Industrial Museum, West Sussex
A terminal from the Paris "Pneu" in working order at the Musée Regional des Télécommunications, Marcq en Barœul near Lille. The manufacturer is Saunier Duval Frisquet, Paris.
The 58th Report of the Postmaster General, 1912-1913 (Cd. 6495) p.20 reports that "Cash Conveyors have been satisfactorily adapted to the conveyance of telegrams, and several types of carrier have been introduced at various offices. For instance, a 'Lamson Pick-up' carrier was introduced at Birmingham (this was a kind of cable system), a 'Gipe' carrier at Gloucester, and the 'Rebesi' and other types are in use or under consideration." There is a very detailed account of the pick-up system at Birmingham post office in Sydney, Australia, in the Daily Commercial News and Shipping List (Sydney), 27 Jan. 1921, p. 11
"At Jennison [Fieldhouse], the stats crew worked at our height but on the opposite side. The crew would send the stats, enclosed in a small container, zinging across to us on a wire cable." Ray Christenson's gopher tales: stories from All Eleven University of Minnesota's Men's Sports (Sports Publishing LLC, 2002) p.84
Lamsons told me that the last new Rapid Wire system to be installed was at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands around 1953 for conveying air tickets. It used Kick-back cars. Aerocom's clients include Lufthansa Airmotive and Irish Express Cargo.
Lamson carriers were used to convey messages to and from the wireless office on the Queen Elizabeth, HMS Vanguard and many other ships.There is a recreation of the RMS Titanic's radio room, complete with pneumatic tubes, at Chelmsford Museum, Essex.
There was a D.D.Lamson installation at Euston station, London in 1970. 'D.D.' relates to 'Dialled Despatches'. "Users clipped a coloured end cap to the document carrier to indicate a specific destination; the caps had a mouth organ-type reed, tuned to a different frequency for each destination. As the carrier whistled along the tubes, the reed hummed its note and at each bifurcation in the tubes, tone detectors 'switched the points' to guide the carrier to its correct destination." (Andy Emmerson in uk.telecom newsgroup, 27 Nov. 1996.) It was reported that a complete circuit took four minutes.
"Passed between the various operators' positions by individual ramps down which tapes are rolled on spools, and by Lamson overhead rapid-wire conveyors." British Railways Board. British transport review (date unknown) p.332
A network of pneumatic tubes carried small parts and paperwork between shops and offices throughout the Delta Air Lines Technical Operations Center, Hartsfield International Airport, Atlanta. (Clemson University website)
The Apollo-era Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center had a pneumatic tube system for distrubuting documents. "Each station has a button matrix for selecting a destination. Your canister first goes down into a switching room where it gets put into this large motorized slotted drum. The drum rotates around and loads your canister into the tube that leads to the destination. Valves open and wooosh... Although tubes still run throughout the building, the system itself no longer functions. The switching mechanism is long gone." 'LastOfHisKind in posting to MetaFilter weblog, 9/10/13