THE CASH RAILWAY WEBSITE
"Last Friday, Ashley's, of Crown Street, served their one-millionth customer. The store .. had earlier announced that such customer would receive their purchase free... As the count neared the 1,000,000, Mr. S. Simmonds kept a close watch on the cash tubes in readiness to receive the docket." South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus, 26 Jun. 1952, p. 8Australia: Brisbane
"Yesterday's Electricity Failure... All cash tubes were thrown out of action and it was unsatisfactory to have to send open tills around the building." The Telegraph (Brisbane), 16 Sep. 1936, p. 10Australia: Anthony Hordern, Melbourne
"Mr. Marsden retired recently after 38 years as manager at the Fine Art Gallery at Anthony Hordern & Sons Ltd... 'There was one man during World War II who came in one lunchtime to buy some pictures. The cost was £800 and he produced it from his pocket in single £1 notes. It ws an awful business to count it, and then it wouldn't go down the cash tubes.'" Australian Women's Weekly, 5 Sep. 1956, p. 33Australia: Meyers, Melbourne
"In slack moments girls in the tube room are making animals for the Lord Mayor's Toys for Britain appeal." The Herald (Melbourne), 6 Jul. 1945, p. 3Australia: Prahan
"Florin clogged cash tube for 34 years... The cashier of a Prahan shop was surprised yesterday when a docket made out in 1916 reached her on an overhead cash carrier. A Queen Victoria 2/ accompanied the docket... The cashier said the docket cleared up the mystery of what had been clogging the cash tube for the past 34 years." Daily Telegraph, 24 Jul. 1950, p. 9Australia: Prahran, Melbourne
The cashier of a Prahran shop was surprised when a docket made out in 1910 reached her on an overhead cash carrier. A Queen Victoria 2/- accompanied the docket. The docket had been made out for the sale of a man's cap at 1/11. The cashier said the docket cleared up the mystery of what had been clogging the cash tube for the past 34 years. But she said it left these questions unanswered:
- Did the person who bought the cap make a fuss when thc money disappeared?
- Did the purchaser get a penny change?
- Was the 1916 salesgirl accused of stealing the 2/-?
Barrier Miner, 25 Jul. 1950, p.5
"It was not uncommon for her to receive the despatch back with a spider or a lizard inside. She was therefore always on her guard." Devonport Times Jan. 2002Australia: Uhl's Saddlery, Brisbane
The manager, Mr Hood, said to Lamsons' Queensland manager on a visit in 1976 that he had a complaint to make. "The wire broke on our system... but that was 25 years ago." Someone had used non-tensile wire. Lamson Solutions 1898-1998
Mr G. Struthers, an electrician, was workingabout 12 feet from the ground at Mr Snelling's shop. His hand came into contact with a live wire and he fell, but the cash railway system broke his fall. Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 13 Apr. 1926, p. 8Australia: ?
"In one place where the writer served as a boy, many were the pranks played on each other... It was a draper's doing a large wholesale and retail trade... In the front shop there was a cash railway for conveying bills and money to the cashier's desk, and on dull days we would send coppers made almost red-hot on a stone in one of the travelling balls. The cashier would get a surprise when taking out the money at his end, and would promptly drop the coins. At a later stage, when a young lady cashier was employed, we would vary the monotony by sending dead mice which had been caught in a trap and saved for that purpose. This used to result in a scream on the lady's part, and when the manager came round to make inquiries we were all busy." Bendigo Independent, 2 Jun. 1909, p. 5Australia: ?
"A disabled soldier has hammered old cash tubes discarded by a city firm into vases of beauty." Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 12 Sep. 1934, p. 7Canada: Eaton's, Winnipeg
"A customer mislaid her green wool gloves in a main floor department. Two hours later they were returned to her from a cash tube which they had blocked." Contacts, 1946, vol. 21, no. 12, p. 7Canada: Joyner's, Moose Jaw
"Spent a summer in the cash cage upstairs doling out change. Loved the job! There was a whole bookshelf of paperbacks which kept me occupied in between the cash cars coming in." Wendy McCluskey on Historic Moose Jaw Facebook pageCanada: J.C.Penney, Atchison
"A few times clerks in a hurry did not quite get the cash cups securely fastened in the holder and they fell out. Wires have also fallen down. But no one was ever banged on the head or injured otherwise by falling cups, money or wires." Atchison Daily Globe, 3 Jun. 1956, p.16England: Anscombes, Harpenden
"As a six year old I was occasionally allowed to enter the cashier’s office at the noisy receiving end of the ‘elastic-gun ‘ operated cash railway system, which lasted so many years. I tried my hand and my arithmetic at unscrewing the little cash containers and calculating the change (under supervision) but was once briefly left alone to cope with the excitement of dealing with one while another one or two came banging in!" Reminiscences of Anscombes by L D Anscomb 1984 on Harpenden History websiteEngland: Arding & Hobbs, London
"Yesterday was a great day at Messrs. Arding and Hobb's mammoth store, Clapham Junction. It was the opening day of the bargain sale... So much money was flying about that very soon the pneumatic tubes which connect the cashiers' desks with the sales counters were choked and temporarily put out of action." Chelsea News, 13 Oct. 1933, p. 4England: Bainbridge & Co., Newcastle
"When the customer came to Bainbridge, he handed over his ticket to the first department in which he wanted to make a purchase. The ticket was then sent via a pneumatic cash tube to the Counting House, where an 'A.S.V.' or Agent's Shopping Voucher was issued to the customer." The 'ticket man' or agent was a trade customer with Bainbridge who owned or ran his own shop, usually in a small town or village. His customer would come to him when they specially wanted an item from Bainbridge. Chronicle/ Bainbridge & Co. Ltd. vol. 37, no. 38, 22 Oct. 1988England: Bedford Borough Treasurer's
"A pneumatic tube under the High Street connected the Borough Treasurer's and the electricity showroom so that bills could be paid in the showroom and the money carried to the Treasurer's office. Occasionally a carrier got stuck and drain rods had to be used to extricate it." C.Collard, Borough Treasurer in This England, Summer 1975England: Birmingham Co-op, Moseley Road
"We had the overhead cable system in the Moseley Rd co-op when I worked there. One day I gave the wheels a good oiling. When the carriage arrived in her little cubicle the cashier went mad, she and her books were splattered with oil." Birmingham History Forum, 16 Dec. 2013England: Birmingham Co-operative Society, Solihull
"I started working for the Birmingham Co-operative Society in July 1944, the first branch was at Olton Boulevard... Those days used to have their funny sides, like a time when the cashier was in her office and the money cups we used to send up for change... We youngsters put a sheep's eye in the cup and sent it up to her. We had a good laugh over that. Joan Cutler in Childhood Memories, Solihull OnlineEngland: Blanchards, Sheffield
"The cash tube system used to frighten her as she was only a very small child, the polished brass used to hiss like a snake and she always thought it would suck her in!!.The sales assistants never handled cash so to speak, they placed the receipt and cheques or cash or if posh you had an account with Blanchards into the polished torpedo which opened at each end with rubber stoppers on. Placed it into the tube off it went to a upstairs office where the clerical staff sat on high chairs with ledgers in front of them entering all the sales. While the money was being sorted, the assistant would parcel up the goods, Then with a hiss it ame back and shot out and landed into a wicker basket." Damasel in posting to Sheffield History website, 1/1/11
"I worked at Blanchards when I left school aged 15. I worked in the cash office at the top of the building, sending change down to the customers via a metal tube down a chute... I remember one day some young men from a cafe down the road were hanging about in the menswear dept and they sent a white mouse in a tube up the chute. I opened the tube expecting some money in it and the mouse ran out. I don't know who was more scared . Me or the poor mouse." Mags in posting to Sheffield History website, 12/3/11England: Bon Marché, Liverpool
"Her first job was at the Bon Marché upmarket shop in Liverpool... She started in the tube room, in the basement, where all the cash canisters came to by pneumatic tubes... Could be hurt if you left your fingers in tube too long. Mostly women down there. Paid 21 shillings a week. 7/6 taken off for your dinner, which you had to eat in the store... They used to be searched for money". Joyce Kearney in Millennium Memory Bank, National Sound ArchiveEngland: Bradford Co-op
"My aunt worked in the cash office at the other end of the pneumatic tubes at the Co-op department store in Bradford. I loved to go and visit her, and slide back and forth on the seat on rails where all the return tubes were located. One had to knock open the valve with the end of the carrier; the vacuum would suck it in and close the valve behind it." Martin S. posting to alt.fan.goons newsgroup, 22/11/05England: Burton Tailoring, Rotherham
"One day I placed a carrier in the tube without closing it. Oh dear, what a to do. In the end Steel Peach & Tozer had to be called out to retrieve the carrier, and the customers money." Nigel Womersle in posting to Sheffield Forum, 6/9/06England: Co-op
"Most of our grocery shopping was done at the local Co-op, one of the largest shops in the High Street. Only Woolworth's .. is remembered as larger. How many remember the central cash office, connected to all departments by a system of overhead wires with catapult operated cash containers? When the pulley wheels became worn or needed oiling the container stopped in mid air. Someone had to resort to using the window hook (that stick with an $ shaped brass hook at the end) to retrieve it. The big department stores in Croydon used vacuum pipes to do the same job, which had to cover 3 or 4 floors, all in one counting house." Steve Oxbrow, Walking on the moon.England: Co-op
"My first job was in the Co-op which used this system. The first time I used it, the customer paid her thirty shillings bill all in sixpenny pieces and I must have failed to secure the pot properly for, halfway to the cash desk it came apart, showering everyone with coins. We never did find all the money. But the best story of all was when a young friend placed a dead mouse in the pot and sent it into the cashier's office - to be followed second later by a loud scream." Letter to Daily Mirror, 21 July 1977, p. 20. Basil Le Roy also reported a dead mouse incident in a letter to the Mirror, 27 December 1968, p.16.England: Co-op, Blackpool
"We used to have these in the co-op Emporium in Blackpool. As kids, we would wander in there with messages saying I've got a big bum. And put them in a capsule and run out laughing." James Marsh in posting to FacebookEngland: Co-op, Fleetwood
[The Co-op had tubes encased in concrete running under Lord Street from one department to another.] "Sometimes a carrier becomes wedged about half way across, but a few jabs from a long pliable cane soon ends the trouble." Fleetwood Chronicle, 11 Nov. 1938, p. 4England: Co-op, Fingerpost, St Helens
"It’s not the Co-op building that really holds memories. It’s what was inside. Never worried about money security! It had the overhead pulley system that used to shoot the cash around the building to an office at the back. Many a friend used to pop inside and grab the arm to send the containers around the room.” Kevin Finney in Coffey Time, St Helens Start website 4/11/10England: Co-op, Sheringham
"Unscrewing the Bakelite cup under the cablecar, the Manager placed the cash and hastily-written slip of paper inside. Then he gave the handle a really good pull to send the little cable car winging its way along the wires to the cashier. But on this occasion, as was so often the case, the cablecar stopped mid way, as it had the habit of ‘running out of steam’ at times.
“Go on, boy Albie,” laughed his father, “get the broom an’ give it a shove, will ya?” Albie willingly obliged by tapping, with the aid of the broomstick, it all the way to the cash desk. Albie's Tales website
"An airedale dog, owner unknown, has taken up an unpaid post in a store at Gravesend, Kent... It's the soft furnishings department he visits. He's fascinated by the overhead cash carrier... The cash carriers travelling swiftly overhead to-and-from the cashier's desk hold him spellbound." Letter to Daily Mirror, 30 Apr. 1940, p.14England: Evans & Owen, Bath
"The main problem with that method [cash ball system] was the danger of the two halves coming apart if not screwed together properly, with the contents falling from a height to the shop floor - hopefully missing the customer's head. Being very young at the time, this was considered hilarious." Letter to Bath Chronicle, 18 May 2004, p.10England: Forrest Stores, Sawbridgeworth
"I know of at least one man who used to have to take his children into the shop and buy something just so that they could see the change carrier working." Herts and Essex Observer, 8 Mov. 1990, p. 21England: Gamages, London
Just as fascinating as the toys, were the overhead jumble of tubes and wires that transported the money collected by the Sales Clerks. Previously I'd seen a similar system at Pontings at Ilford, where my Mum would take me to buy my 'best' new clothes, but this was much grander. The cash system at Gamages was as good as the model railways!
The little brass cylinders came from all directions along shiny wires and the Cashier's office was much grander. This was a sort of Victorian folly, constructed from glass and elaborate cast iron painted greenish gold. They had several Cashiers inside the little prison. They were older and more severe matronly types, not at all like the young girl at Pontings, who would give you a smile when she looked up and saw you watching her.
Payment, using these contraptions, was always something of an ordeal and I remember an incident at Pontings that illustrates the point. After giving the sales clerk the money for payment, they would make out a receipt. The receipt and money would then be put it into a cylindrical container with a screw cap. This in turn would be placed in a tube. At the pull of a cord a bell would ding, and with a whoosh of air, the cylinder, by magic, would be transported to the Cashier's 'Office'. At Pontings, this was a high glass walled hut arrangement near the centre of the shop floor. The Cashier then took the receipt and the cash out of the tube, checked it was correct, and if necessary, supplied the change. She then signed the receipt and sent it all back again. It was always best if you gave the correct amount, even if it was something like nine and eleven pence halfpenny, because then you didn't have to wait so long for the Cashier to send the change back. Sometimes the cashier had to get the Head Cashier to check change, especially from notes. I remember once my Mum received the wrong change and it was very embarrassing while they all tried to sort out where and how she'd been short changed by tuppence halfpenny or whatever.
Bibulous Bibliophiles websiteEngland: Grants, High Street, Croydon
"My first full time job was working for Grants in their cash office. In those 'olden' days, the store had an intricate (compressed air) piped system of sending money around the store, and to and from the cash office. In the cash office, we'd receive these canisters with Customers' money and a sales invoice inside. We were required to stamp the invoice paid and make up the correct change, put it all back in the canister and return it to whichever department, again via the piped system.
Of course, if we were sending the canister back to a young wench on the shop floor, we would always add a personal 'tribute' from the cash office lads." Don Donnovani in Crystal Palace Football Club forumEngland: "A store" in Gravesend
"An airedale dog .. has taken up an unpaid post in a store at Gravesend, Kent. Every morning he waits at the staff entrance and goes in... He's fascinated by the overhead cash carrier." Daily Mirror, 30 Apr. 1940, p. 14England: The Beehive, Leicester
"That magnificant cash railway, the delight of many a bored small girl, dragged out shopping with Mama to that enchanting emporium, the Beehive." [and some boys!] Leicester Chronicle, 19 Apr. 1974, p. 13England: Hamleys(?), London
"Any happy kid could watch these wire-led missiles whizzing above his head like bullets on a string. Approaching Christmas, my memory is that they had little Sooties or other puppets sitting in them." 'Waxy' in posting to Whirligig message board, 20/11/04England: Harrods
Only occasionally were there mishaps in the tube system. As recently as the mid-1960s one inexperienced temporary salesgirl put sixty-four pound notes straight into the tube and not, as was essential, into the carrier. Within seconds the cashiers in the basement were being showered with sixty-four shredded one pound notes.England: Harwoods, Strood
"Harwoods, one of the big clothing shops in Strood, had a splendid overhead wire cable-way... This inspired several model imitations which moved objects around my bedroom!" John Robert Etherington in posting to WW2 People's War: an archive of World War Two memories, 17/6/04England: Hull
"Sub-Committees under the Hull Food Control Committee held meetings yesterday... In order to save time, the managers were informed that the use of the 'cash railway' for conveying change between the cash desk and the counter must be dispensed with. Customers should tender the exact amounts and save the trouble and time of getting change." Yorkshire Post, 12 Jan. 1918, p. 8England: Joyes(?), Grays
The department store in Grays, (corner of New Road and High Street)
had one of them. The wires were replaced by I-beam rails to go round
corners. The I-beam had hexagonal holes in /exactly/ the same size as
a "Derwent" pencil.
As a smallish boy (<12) I would wander in there with my mate Graham and "liberate" a pencil from one of the counters. When no-one was looking you could reach through the iron banister rails and push a pencil through the rail. Then retreat. When the little trolley came thundering along, it would snap the pencil in half and stop dead. The two halves of the pencil would fall on the floor, and in a well-planned rush get collected to disguise the cause of the incident.
The customer would get in a huff, the sales staff in a fluster, and a"floorwalker" would head off to find the problem, then try to retrieve the trolley with broomsticks tied together etc.
Just one incident could entertain a couple of young boys for a whole afternoon. Robert Har... in posting to uk.rec.sheds newsgroup, 23 Aug. 2007
[In the 1940s] "There were about five railways which went along to the cash desk - the girl used to put the change in and send it back. Occasionally if things were slack we used to sort of wind up the girls in the office by either putting in false messages or a dead mouse you know, much to the consternation of the shop manager! 'Who did that?' Nobody would own up. "Lewes remembers, p.59 and interview of Geoffrey Symonds in National Sound ArchiveEngland: Lewis's, Manchester
[In the early 1940s] "in the sub-basement there were rows and rows of girls sitting emptying, filling, giving change , collecting clothing coupons from these machines, we had to service a lot more than one... They were coming down non-stop and at times when the store [was] busy they would be backed up for 5-10 minutes. To go back to the sales desk they were sent first to another girl who had a whole slew of pipes, rather like a church organ, with numbers on them which corresponded to the numbers on the tube." Joan White in posting to soc.genealogy.uk+ireland group, 12 Jan. 1997England: Lipton's
"We have a dog named Flossie. One day she was taken into Lipton's shop in Broad-street and saw the cash railway. She got very excited, and rushed up and down the shop trying to catch the boxes as they travelled along. Now, every time she goes by a grocer's shop she runs in to see if they have got a railway... (Dorothy Bird)." Daily News (London), 13 Mar. 1926, p. 2England: Maypole Dairy Co., Rowley Regis
"My parents met when they worked there. Dad was a bacon hand, and Mom the cashier. Apparently he used to put messages in the pulley cup that money was sent along a wire to the cashiers box." Rowley Regis OnlineEngland: North London Drapery Store
"The only saving grace of The North London Drapery Store was.. Lamson Tubes! How exciting when mum or another customer bought something. The salesgirl would write out a chitty and put that and the money into the container. Then open a flap-valve and shove the container up. I used to stand gazing with bated breath for the brass tube with grey leather end seals to 'flud-dump' into the basket with the chitty stamped and our change." Ray Smith in uk.rec.subterranea Newsgroup, 13 Aug. 2002, referring to late 1940s/early 1950sEngland: Paignton Co-op Society, Totnes
"When I was a child in Totnes, I remember the Paignton Co-op Society's
store in Fore Street. It had a haughty lady cashier who used to sit in a glass-fronted
office set up near the roof, from which vantage point she could oversee the
misdeeds of the shop assistants and sneer at the customers... The assistants
wrote out the bill for the purchase and put it with your money into a kind of
tube suspended on a system of wires. They pulled a lever and your money and
the bill would whiz around the shop at an alarming speed. After completing what
seemed to be about half a dozen circuits of the store, it clanked into the grand
lady's eyrie. She undid the lid of the tube and took out the bill and the money.
After putting in the relevant change, she sent it back on the return journey.
I remember praying that our ten shilling notes would be crisp and clean. I dreaded
incurring that lady's displeasure.
"The store had about six serving points so you can imagine the activity there was on the tube system on a busy day. Little pots of money rattled and clanked in all directions. I was always hoping to see a crash, but I never did...
"When the Paignton Co-op Society was taken over by the CRS, we lost our tube system in Totnes, and, eventually, we lost our co-op store too." (Roy James, "Thoughts on emporiums" in Herald Express (Torquay), 22/11/83). The writer blames the demise of emporiums on the Americans, who "never had any emporiums" and whose "history is completely devoid of haughty lady cashiers and clanking tubes of money"!
"Nemo" describes the carrier in the Gipe system at Pughs. "[I] saw a bloke up a ladder get hit by one once. He was OK though. The ground broke his fall. Posting to alt.fan.goons newsgroup, 17/3/04England: Salts, Swadlincote
At one time, Swadlincote was synonymous with Salt's. You name it, Salt's sold it. But what fascinated Roger Betteridge most of all was its 'celestial railway' - a complicated overhead Billy Bean contraption which carried cash and receipts to and from the cashier's office, as Roger, of Shardlow, describes here.
No shop was more loved than Salt's. For the best part of a century, it gave customers value, courtesy and service beyond price. Founded at Swadlincote in 1895, by brothers Enoch and Joseph Salt, it later opened branches in Moira, Newhall and Derby. With the early departure of Joseph, a third brother, Hezekiah, joined Enoch to ensure a family partnership of remarkable grace and longevity. Swadlincote became synonymous with Salt's. Its three large departments - astride the bustling High Street of a town alive and prosperous, deep in the heart of the smoking chimneys of pipe-yards, pits and potteries - sold just about everything. Apart from food and drink, Salt's was the place to go. Wardrobes to wheel-barrows, china to chicken-wire, stockings to steam-irons, linoleum to lavatory-paper, corsetry to chopsticks, flannels to frying-pans, prams to paint-brushes - no South Derbyshire need remained unmet.
But one Salt's pleasure above all has remained crystal clear in my mind. As a boy, I was fascinated by the aerial railways that wound their unnoticed ways above the heads of customers and staff - narrow, wooden tracks curving through gentle declines and complicated switch-points to miniature lifts that joined counter to cash-desk. I would watch, sometimes as Aunt Mabel bought unmentionable garments the colour of flesh, the slow trundle of wooden balls along these tracks - balls carrying the customers' cash to a central desk and returning with their change and receipts, slow, delightful minutes later. In those days, I called it Salt's celestial railway. And a lifetime later, I have no reason to change.
I shudder occasionally at the memories of other people. Remember the early Salt's days, they say, when money was put into cylinders, driven by compressed air, and rushed at great speed through hissing tubes from counter to cash-desk and back, payment and change moving at the cutting edge of Lamson Paragon technology. But these are recent memories of a more advanced technology, which followed the restful elegance of the original Victorian celestial railway system.
The cash railway was born in 1881. Invented by the owner of a large drapery store in Lowell, Massachussetts, it spread like wildfire through the retail emporia of New England, affording, it was claimed, 'great speed and benefit to store and customer alike. The cashboy, until now running at speed and great inconvenience between counter and cash-desk, at a stroke becomes unnecessary.'
Within a couple of years, this remarkable invention had crossed the Atlantic. By 1885, the Glasgow shops of Arnott and Co had adopted the system and, by 1890, dozens of English businesses were proudly proclaiming 'the incredible advantages of this latest American genius'. Enoch and Hezekiah Salt were quick to follow suit. Within months, their cash railway had been installed. Twin, elevated wooden tracks were suspended above counters, assistants and customers, curving, climbing and descending in parabolas of delight. Switch-points were established to direct the slow, hollow, running balls from sales to central cash-desk and back. Tiny lifts were installed to carry the balls from one shop-level to another without hesitation or human hand. By the time of the grand opening, every aspect of the magical Lowell system had come to Swad.
Too much technical detail dilutes the enchantment. It is sufficient to take short note of the Salts' own account of their new wonder. They pointed out that the new wooden elevated railways, suspended above all counters, radiated from the central cashier's desk and that, to prevent collisions between running cash-balls, two parallel tracks, with opposing gradients of two inches in every eight feet, had been provided. They said that cash, change and receipts would be placed into hollow cash-balls designed to divide in half and screw back together 'with the utmost care and security for our customer's welfare' and that miniature lifts allowed salesman and cashier to hoist cash-ball to rail 'with speed, silence and dexterity.' They added that points of 'fiendish complexity guide each cash-ball into its designated elevated runway'.
Such remarkable novelty added much to the pleasure of shopping at Salt's. For weeks, families crowded the stores to wonder at the breathtaking ingenuity of the American mind. As others watched, the assistants were inundated by countless small transactions, designed to keep the amazing new system running at peak capacity. Children waited for cash-ball collisions that never happened; parents timed the stately progress of cash-ball to cashier and back. Only the new trams of the Burton-Ashby light railway and the flickering gas flares over the market stalls across Swadlincote Delph offered any sort of competition as a spectacle.
Of course, technology changed and the celestial railway had to give way. The hissing vacuum tubes of the Lamson Paragon system replaced the stately magic of the slowly rolling cash-balls above wondering heads. Nevertheless, Salt's contrived to keep its traditional grace and courtesy for many more years. Its concern for the customer was encapsulated for me by one small incident I watched. My father, searching for a wheelbarrow, began to toy with one outside the hardware department. Enoch Salt, himself, never far from the cutting edge of custom, paused to watch. Sensing father's intention, he closed in.
Derby Evening Telegraph, 1 Sep. 2008, p. 22England: Scunthorpe Co-op
"The Drapery Manager will be in the Drapery Cash Office. He will pick out at random checks which come up through the cash tubes and mark them with the word 'Nylons', These will be returned through the cash tubes in the usual way. A customer on receiving a check so marked will be entitled to take it immediately to the hosiery counter and purchase the pair of Nylon Stockings." Scunthorpe Evening Telegraph, 10 Dec. 1946, p. 4England: Sheffield Co-op
"I'm sure the Co-op at the corner of Chesterfield Road and Meersbrook Park Road had the brass tube system when I was little. I always thought it was really exciting - once the manager took me into the room upstairs where the cashier sat and let me wait for our money to arrive there! From then on it was my ambition to be her one day. Sitting up there in splendid isolation, bird's eye view of the shopfloor, money and power hehe .. world domination. "Rubydazzler" in posting to Sheffield Forum, 6/9/06England: Sherringham Co-op
By that time, Sheringham Co-op had dispensed with the separate cash tills on each counter and replaced them with a centralised cashier’s position, linked to the counters by a system of overhead cables. Above each counter dangled a little spring-loaded, thingammyjig – that resembled a miniature cable car – to transport the customer’s money to the cash desk.
The method was quite simple; firstly, the bill would be totalled and a small slip of paper made out and this, together with the money, would be placed in a cup below the cablecar – then, with a quick, sharp pull on the handle, it was away!
Thanks, Mrs Wright,” said Albie’s father, then, as the lad couldn’t quite reach: “here, let me do it for you, Albie!”
Unscrewing the Bakelite cup under the cablecar, the Manager placed the cash and hastily-written slip of paper inside. Then he gave the handle a really good pull to send the little cable car winging its way along the wires to the cashier. But on this occasion, as was so often the case, the cablecar stopped mid way, as it had the habit of ‘running out of steam’ at times.
“Go on, boy Albie,” laughed his father, “get the broom an’ give it a shove, will ya?” Albie willingly obliged by tapping, with the aid of the broomstick, it all the way to the cash desk. Albie's Tales website - with cartoon
"One of my jobs was to start the machine up to operate the [pneumatic tube] system and it was a beast to get up and running." "Baldy Smith" in posting to South Shields Sanddancers Forum, 24/3/05England: 'Well-known Emporium', London
"In a well-known emporium on the south side of London yesterday a similar incident was brought to the attention of the managers. Three little urchins .. were lingering much longer around the haberdashery counter than the toy show-room... 'Please sir', exclaimed the girl, quite frankly, 'Willie and Teddy like to look at the balls running along the cash railway, and mother said we could come here and see them!'" Daily Telegraph, 30 Oct. 1897, p. 7England: Wolfe and Hollanders, Reading
"There was another one in Reading at Wolfe and Hollanders . When i was there we used to take great delight in capturing some of the stores resident spiders and putting them in the carrier and sending them up to the cash office We also found a way of hearing what happened afterwards if i remember rightly we used to drop the pressure down somehow to enable us to hear the screams it was always a good way to get a chuckle going on a quiet trading day . As you can imagine many odds and ends rattled up the lamson tube some alive and occasionally dead i sent a dead mouse on one occasion for a short time after the office became known as the grave yard , happy days !" "Waddy" in posting to Reading Forum, 8/1/14Ireland: Carrick-on-Shannon
"We went shopping at Mr. Flood's splendid One-Price Warehouse in Carrick... We bought Arran sweaters and caps... With our bill, which came via a Wire Cash Railway System, Mr. Flood presented us with a decimal conversion table... On the back was a worthy article reprinted from the Lamson Engineering News, concerning four gentlemen who interrupted Mr Flood's half day off by insisting on trying out the Rapid Wire system for themselves... 'For the next 15 minutes they proceeded to ply the "Station Master" with a barrage of carriers, while it required an all-out effort on his part to keep the empties returned and the lines open.'" Birmingham Daily Post, 2 Jul. 1969, p. 6
Mr Shaw of Shaws department Stores, Ireland, wrote (31/5/02) that his father and uncles remember the Lamson system well. The sales staff used to have to keep a record of each sale and at various times of the day but particularly the end they would have to agree their totals with the office total.
All sales staff used to have a pencil behind their ears and if the office delayed in sending back change etc. they would tap the wire with their pencils to tell them to hurry up. At times the sales staff would send several sales at once to try and confuse the office staff with the change they would have to return and likewise the office would then send back all the change for these sales at one time and unless the sales staff remembered what to expect they had problems.Lamsons
The big London stores such as Selfridges, Gamages and C & A at sales times would ask for loans of extra Rapid Wire equipment. This was kept in crates at the back of the store labelled for the different shops. At Christmas, models might be attached to the cars such as Fathers Christmas.
The play "Madame Louise" (see Films, plays etc.) requires a wire system in one act. Lamsons used to lend a set when it was being put on until the 1970s.
New Zealand: a dry goods store (fictional?)
[See also the very similar story at USA: an Art and Stationery Store below]
" A young lady went into a large dry goods store on a shopping expedition having for a companion a big handsome dog. He was a pointer and the manner in which he trotted sedately along and kept out of everybody's way showed that he was as intelligent as handsome. The young lady having made her purchase, the shop-girl put the check and the money in a wooden ball and sent it along the "cash railway," relates Golden Days. At the first "whiz" the dog pricked up his ears, and the next instant he started after the ball as if he were morally sure it was some new kind of bird. Past the crowds of Christmas buyers, in and out and between hundreds of people, the pointer dashed until the ball disappeared from view. Then he looked puzzled and then humiliated, and was coming back to his indignant mistress when the ball came whizzing on its return trip. This time the dog expressed his feelings by short yelps as he flew after his game, and this time he took the short route along the counter and fetched up in front of the shop girl, leaving behind him a trail of dismayed shoppers. Then the ball was given him to investigate, and a more disappointed dog was never seen." Bruce Herald, 10 Nov. 1903, p.7New Zealand: Hamilton Hardware
"So if you were extra friendly with any of the guys or wanted a bit of fun, we used to sometimes put a little note in them." Hamilton Public Library Youth Oral History CollectionNew Zealand: Taranaki Aviation Transport and Technology Museum
"[There] is a working setup including a curved segment. We actually managed to dewire the car once and when getting it back on the wire contrived to put it wrong way round, so that it crashed into the segment and stopped dead in its tracks. (They only fit one way.)" Graeme BennettScotland: Carnoustie Co-op
"For some time past a robin has frequented the enclosed yard at the rear of the Carnoustie Co-operative Society's premises in Ferrier Street... When the staff entered on Monday morning, they found their little visitor perching complacently on the wire of the cash railway, and great difficulty was experienced in removing the intruder... He quitted the grocery department after experiencing one or two 'close shaves' from the whizzing cash receptacle." Broughty Ferry Guide, 30 Oct. 1937, p. 7Scotland: Jenner's
• "I remember these well from my days in Jenners, at busy times the office used to go nuts when you lifted the flap a few times to hurry them up!!!" Frances Stewart in posting to Facebook
• "All too familiar from my Jenners days. God help you if you mixed up the shuttles for tube desk with those for accounts dept!" Jane Neil-macLachlan in posting to Facebook
"My friend witnessed an amusing incident there the other day. The wifie in front of him had a pomegranate which the checkout operator thought sub-standard. So she called over the intercom for a replacement and apologised for the delay. After a couple of minutes she again requested a replacement. Then with a clunk the capsule arrived. She looked puzzled, opened it, and inside was a replacement pomegranate!" Dick GoodallUSA: Anderson-Newcomb
William Newcomb wrote: "When the store opened for business after the 1913 flood the fabulous cable system that carried tickets and cash between a cashier on the balcony to all departments was not in operation. Being almost 9 years old, I was pressed into service by my father to run tickets and cash to a cashier station. In 1937 [when the Ohio River flooded again], the equally fabulous pneumatic tube system was not operating. Following a family tradition, I brought my son Bill who was seven and his brother Bob, age five, to work. They thoroughly enjoyed working for two days."USA: Ann August
The tube system served two five-storey buildings with the cash office on the top floor. Carriers would become suspended in the tubes when their "wafers" at either end became frayed or damaged. That meant breaking into the tubes and using a snake that was up to 100 feet long. "Had many panicky moments when this occurred." Jeff
USA: An Art and Stationery Store (fictional?)
[See also the very similar story at New Zealand: a dry goods store above]
"From the Springfield Union.
For a dog he was handsome... He was a pointer. The scene was in a Main-st. art and stationery store. The sweet young lady who wheedles your loose change out of your pocketbook to pay for sundry stationery and sends it to parts unknown had just deposited some pennies into the ball operated by the cash railway. She touched the something that says 'whiz' and away went the ball containing the money. But there was one interested observer in the shape of that pointer. He dashed after that ball as it flew along the wire with a speed that was worthy of a better ???? Past young misses who were buying scented note paper to write to Charlie, past staid people who were investing in graver subjects. The ball came over the wire again, but the pointer eagerly ran along the floor with it. The dog was mystified. He couldn't understand it, and expressed his feelings by short yelps. Again the ball flew, and again the pointer flew after the 'game'. At last the cash balls were taken down and the pointer was invited to investigate. He gave one sniff, and a more disappointed dog you never saw. He had ben made ???? of." New York Tribune, 6 Nov. 1890, p. 3
The history of Belks, Charlotte N.C. by Covington describes the system there before it was replaced by pneumatic tubes. "They placed the sales ticket and the customer's payment in a wire basket that was carried along greased wire guidelines directed by a series of pulleys to the cashiers' desk... This contraption, called the Lamson system, provided a constant background noise of whirring and clicking as the baskets zipped through various intersections... The occasional derailment of a basket brought everything to a halt until a clerk climbed a ladder to right the misdirected carrier." Although the carriers are called "wire baskets" the description fits a cable system rather than a cash basket system.
USA: Blyth & Fargo
"The money and a sales slip was put into a little wooden trolley cup on rollers that was send [sic] down to the office on a spring steel wire. The accountant in the office would send it back to the respective department. The clerk would count the change and give it back to the customer. If the incorrect change was made, they would rattle the wire and send the cup back down." Phyllis Genealogy websiteUSA: a Californian dry goods store
"A young lady wept into a large dry goods store on a shopping expedition, having for a companion a big, handsome dog. He was a pointer, and the manner in which he trotted sedately along and kept out of everybody’s way showed that he was as intelligent as handsome. The young lady having made her purchase the shop-girl pot the check and the money in a wooden ball and sent it along the 'cash railway.' At the first 'whiz' the dog pricked up his ears, and the next instant he started after the ball as if he were morally sure it was some new kind of bird. Past the crowds of buyers, in and out and between hundreds- of people, the pointer dashed until the ball disappeared from view. Then he looked puzzled and then humiliated, and was coming back to his indignant mistress when the hall came whizzing on its return trip. This time the dog expressed his feelings by short yelps as he flew after his game, and this time lie took the short route along the counter and fetched up in front of the shop girl, leaving behind him a trail of dismayed shoppers. Then the ball was given him to investigate, and a more disappointed dog was never seen."USA: a Canton, OH department store
"My dad bought a pair of shoes in a downtown department store. They had those nifty Lamson vacuum tubes that sent your cash back to a hidden cashier who made change and sucked it back to the sales counter. Nobody ever robbed those stores. The shoe salesman got a little too close to the tube when he opened his end. His rug [i.e. toupee] chased my dad's $10 back to accounting." Canton Rep websiteUSA: a Decatur, IL store
"A few days ago in a long store the clerk reached up to send a bill to the cashier n a wire cash carrier. As he reached an ugly Skye terrier yelped, jumped up four feet as if to catch the and then started after the carier going on a dead run." Daily Review, 5 Nov. 1893USA: Goldwaters
"Anecdotes about Barry Goldwater as a merchant are legion. In a gesture of frivolity, he once put a live mouse in a cash carrier and sent it through the pneumatic tube from a basement counter to the mezzanine where the cashier on duty greeted it with screeches." New York Times, 5 Apr. 1966, p.47USA: Goodnow Pearson
John Langlois of Gardner remembers the sounds of the old cash box conveyer system, or “cash railway,” that was used in lieu of cash registers. As John explained, the clerk handwrote a receipt and put the cash and the receipt into a box that made it’s way up to the cashier. The cashier made change and then sent the box back down. John remembers moving from room to room to watch the conveyer make its journey, “The thing had a sound that provided kind of a background noise for the whole store, either the banging sound when the box reached an intersection or that whirring sound caused by the rope that was running constantly through the entire system.” Telegram.com websiteUSA: Higginbothams
"When I was about 4, Harold Williams was the manager. One day he picked me up and let me pull that thing and send it on its way. It would be like a kid launching a rocket today. I never had such a thrill." Harold Belyau, 70. Abeline Reporter-News websiteUSA: a Los Angeles store
"A young lady came into one of our large city dry goods stores the other day, on a shopping expedition, having for a companion a large, handsome dog... You would hardly have known there was a dog in the store, until .. the shop-girl put the check and the money in a wooden ball and sent it along the 'cash railway'. At the first 'whiz' the dog pricked up his ears, and the next instant he started after the ball as if he were morally sure it was some new kind of bird. Past the crowds of buyers, in and out and between hundreds of people, the pointer dashed until the ball disappeared from view." Los Angeles Herald, 23 Feb. 1908USA: Lowns
Jim Kerbull, former owner and operator, on the video made by the Lemelson Center recounts that dogs used to race the car back and forth (though they were not supposed to be in the store). Mr Hughes of T.P.Hughes, Tenby also mentioned dogs chasing and barking at his system - which is more surprising since it was pneumatic tube - and see Maxwells below..USA: Macy's, New York
"Those little change carriers still annoyed me... It seemed such a waste of time to have to stand and wait until the change came back... This Saturday morning I went to record a sale, and send the money and the sales slip whizzing away to the cashier in one of those little cylinders. I started it on its way and rushed off to wait on another customer. But my bugaboo, the floorwalker was there. He touched me on the arm, and said: 'You must wait for the change.' 'But while I am waiting I can sell another hat', I replied. 'Then I can come back for the change.' 'No', he said, 'you must wait.' Lilly Daché. Talking through my hats (New York: Coward-McCann, 1946) p.75USA: Maxwells dry goods store, Boston
"Clair P.Abbott has a dog which answers to the name of 'Gyp'... The dog has a number of peculiar characteristics, but the one which occasions the most fun, perhaps, is his fondness for, or possibly his antipathy to cash and package carriers... As soon as the dog gets into a store where there are cash and package carriers in operation there is trouble. When the carrier starts across the room the dog makes and awful fuss and precipitates a small-scale riot. A short time ago 'Gyp' followed Mrs. Abbott down town, unknown to her. She went into Maxwell's dry goods store and the first intimation that she had that the dog was present was when a clerk started a cash carrier across the room toward the office. The store was crowded with lady shoppers, but the dog began barking loudly and just leaped through the room in the direction the carrier was taking. The dog ran against ladies and was upset once or twice, but got up again and continued the chase with greater vim than ever. Some of the women in the crowded store became panic stricken, thinking that possibly the dog was mad and they climbed upon stools and even on the counters to get away. About the time the dog reached a place directly under the cashier's department the latter started another carrier across the room in another direction and the same exciting performance was repeated in a new section of the store. Russell and 'Bob' Maxwell .. could not resist the temptation to have some more fun out of it , so they got to shooting the cash carriers across the room and kept the dog very busy for a time. When the thing was stopped several temporary bargain counters with their contents had been knocked over on the floor and it required about two hours to straighten up the store again. The same performances with the riot features attached have occurred several times in the Boston store and also at Lante's [?] where there are cash or package carriers."USA: McElroys (fictional)
In Frances Donovan's novel "The saleslady", she lives in dread of receiving the carrier back with a red rubber band round it. This indicates a "premium". She had made a mistake which had to be referred to the section manager, and the person who discovered it was awarded 10 cents. I don't know to what extent this was based on reality.USA: O'Sheas
"The pneumatic cash system was always good for a prank, especially in the old store where the office was in an open balcony. A feather from a feather duster could be carefully placed in the carrier so that when opened it would spring out at a startled cashier. The screech sometimes made customers forget what they were shopping for. It was also possible to create the same result by filling the canister with cigarette smoke. Deceased insects and spiders were also known to take the ride." The Weirs Times Mount Washington Special EditionUSA: J.C. Penny, McCook, Neb.
"I wanted our mama to spend a lot of time in those stores so we could witness this intriguing system. Each store had a busy network of overhead wiring running from each service counter in each department to a balcony or mezzanine at the rear of the store. At the front of this balcony at a desk that overlooked the main floor each wire track ended... We often wondered if there could be a crash on the overhead cash railway. I hoped I could be a salesclerk when I grew up so that I could yank that wooden handle to shoot that canister up and away... Maybe today was the day that we were going to see the canister overshoot the service counter and we could witness the sight of the money flying across the store. It never happened. However, sometimes they did come down the wire so fast that they would crash with an impatient bang that left no one any doubt that it had arrived with the customer's change... As I curled up in the back seat of the car the sound of the buzzing and humming of those cash trolleys running overhead in the stores were now buzzing and humming in my mind, and it eased me to sleep." Jeanne Boyle Oldweiler. The ant hill challenge: a collection of stories about growing up in southwestern Nebraska during the 1940s and 1950s. (Bloomington IN: AuthorHouse, 2008) p.106.USA: Speare's, Nashua
"Reynold A. Dean, president of the firm and veteran employee, recalls the time that Rover, the ??? dog of the late Rev. Otto Lyding spied one of the boxes take off after his master had made a purchase. Abandoning his customary dignity, Rover sprang at the canister and started along in in hot pursuit of the cash, Dean recalls. The resultant muddy footprints on the displayed merchandise was reportedly of considerable embarassment to the good master, also a man of considerable dignity." Nashua Telegraph, 26 Jun. 1969, p.10USA: Dry Goods Store on 14th Street
The contents were dimes and five-cent pieces, and there was a big heap of them... The purchase came to just under twenty dollars. After counting it over twice the clerk had to charter two extra trains on the cash railway in order to get the money to the cashier's desk. The Enterprise (Wellington OH), 2 Sep. 1891, p. 8USA: Tiffanys
"Once while I was at Tiffany's, on another floor where a friend of mine was working, Elton John came in with Bernie Taupin. She was so flustered that when they bought their item they came in for, and paid her cash, she took the cash and, instead of putting it in the capsule we had at the time for the pneumatic tube system they used all over the whole department store, which would shoot the capsules back and forth and make change for you and send receipts, she simply opened the door you shoot the capsule down and stuffed the cash in - WITHOUT THE CAPSULE! This f--ed up the whole system for the rest of the day - there were dollar bills stuck all over the pipes." Diaryland websiteUSA: Wallace Armer
wrote: "Until 1996, when they went bankrupt, they were still using
such a cash carrier. It was an overhead cord-and-pulley system with an endless
loop of cotton cord that traversed a route around the entire store, going to
each check-out area (there were maybe five of them), and then up to a "crows
nest"/office in the upper back corner of the store.
The checker would write up your items, take your cash, fold it up, and put it inside a small shiny rectangular metal box... The checker would also flip something on the box, like metal flaps .. that uniquely identified the "address"/location of the office.
Then the checker would reach up and hook the box onto a line-mounted metal atachment... This conveyor system had a perpetual distinctive soft clickety-clack sound, since the cord had little metal hooks or grabbers on it every few feet... There was a looped black metal wire-frame cage at each sales area... When derailed, the cashbox would zoom off the cord onto the metal wire frame."
(Referring to the Martin & Hill Electric Cable Cash Railway): " Mayhem ensued at least once a week when somebody's excitable pet dog, driven crazy by the zippy little boxes, would break loose and go tearing after them, barking madly." Greater Greater Washington websiteUn-named (1)
"A big single storey store (opened in the 1880's) I shopped in up till the mid 50's ... had a really wild central cash station where the sale was written up and the money/paper was put into a carrier that hung on a wire placed maybe 6 feet off the ground... What they didn't factor in was that in a few generations folks got taller and more than once my 6'+ bod got a hat knocked off or brushed on the head as these whizzed by." Charley Kehoe in rec.antiques newsgroup, 9 Feb. 1998.Un-named (2)
"My cousin was on his first day of his first job serving on the counter at the local department store. The store had one of those overhead wire contraptions that Lydart describes.
His aunt came in and he rushed to serve her. He wrapped the parcel with string and brown paper. Then he noticed that his aunt was stuffing the dangling string attached to the over head contraption, down into her ample bosom. My cousin being a pimply 15 year old did not know what to do or where to look. Aunt eventually realised her mistake and there were red faces all around. But she as always laughed off her mistake and made him feel better.
My cousin finally told us this story many years later such was his embarrassment. Aunt was my mother, who was profoundly deaf and who wore a hearing aid where the ear piece was connected by a cord to the large battery thing which she clipped to her bra." Gazania in posting to RootsChat.com
Diana Crook recalled that her dog loved the carrier system. On the first floor there was a hole where you could see into the ground floor. The dog used to wait there and when a car passed it got excited and barked.
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