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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The "Pilfering Pneumatic Canisters" Story

Mr. William Murdock
Inventor of the pneumatic tube system 
It was an ordinary day.  Just got back from the bank after making a deposit at the drive-through.  Turned off the engine and reached for the deposit slip on the passenger's seat only to find I had the entire drive-through canister sitting next to me.  What's bad is it isn't the first time that's happened.  For some reason when I stop at the drive-through and have other customers behind me in line, I try and hurry my transaction and that's what happens.  I have always returned the canister the following day and taken it into the bank.  I"m always thanked and told that I'm not the only one who does it.  
Women making change at a pneumatic system.
Now, my story today has to do with the canister and the system that is used to deliver the canister into the bank and back to the car again.  Called the pneumatic tube message system and was invented in England in 1836 by William Murdock who also was given credit for inventing the oscillating cylinder steam engine, gas lighting, steam gun and made a number of discoveries in chemistry.  
A drawing of an experimental pneumatic elevated
subway from 1867.  The beginning of the subway system?
It was in 1854 that Josiah Clark was issued a patent "for conveying letters or parcels between places by the pressure of air and vacuum."  In 1893 the first pneumatic system was established in the U.S. in Philadelphia by Postmaster General John Wanamaker who had previously employed the system in his department store.  The U.S. Postal System utilized the pneumatic system of office mail delivery in many U.S. cities until the last system in St. Louis was stopped in 1953.  In 1861 the London Pneumatic Despatch Company built a system large enough to transport people.  
Photo taken in Lancaster, PA showing women making
change and using the pneumatic tube system at a local store.
In 1865 the Duke of Bucking- ham, the chairman of the company, was blown through the tube to Euston, a five minute trip.  By 1870 an actual subway beneath the streets of New York began working.  Known as the Beach Pneumatic Transit and featured one car that ran a city block.  As for me, I can remember the use of pneumatic tubes or canisters in many of the department stores in downtown Lancaster, PA.  I loved going to Watt & Shand's or Hager's or Garvin's Department Store and watch my mom pay for her purchases with cash and the clerk putting the money in the canister and sending it to who knows where.  

This is a view inside Lancaster's Watt & Shand Department Store in downtown Lancaster.  It's listed on the photo as being the basement of the store where the pneumatic tubes would lead and where change would be made and sent back to the customer in the department above. 

 As I stood next to mom, I could here and perhaps tell where the metal tubes were moving in the ceiling.  In about a minute or two the canister would return with mom's change.  How that tube knew exactly where to go and return to still boggles my mind. All those stores are now gone from downtown Lancaster as well as the pneumatic tube systems they once used, but the local hospital, newspaper and banks still employ the pneumatic systems.  And, I'm sure they have an extra supply of canisters for customers like me that forget to put the tube back in the system and drive away with it.  Seems they were never able to patent a unit that would stop the pilferage of their canisters by customers such as me.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.
Oh yeah!  This is the pneumatic tube system that I have pilfered the canister from a few times.  They know by now that they may have to replace the canister when the little white car with the bald guy goes through it. I usually return it the next day!

 

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