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It has always been a human need to communicate, as a means to stay in touch, exchange important information or arrange appointments. In our digitalized world especially the young generation finds it hard to image how information was forwarded fast 100 to150 years ago. The smart solution in the 19th century: pneumatic tube systems.
The Development of Tube Systems
The first usable tube system was developed 1853 in London. Even then, the streets were full of carriages and cars, leading to heavy traffic and congestion, a big problem for postal carriers. Thanks to tube systems letters were delivered much faster. Especially for the stock market, the tube system was a lifesaver in the mid-19th century: important messages were often late due to traffic problems, making e.g. closing deals in time difficult.
With the tube system, messages could be sent at a speed of 40 km/h and as there is no congestion a timely arrival of information was guaranteed! The first tube system in Germany went into operation in Berlin in 1876.
Even the secret service relied on this mode of transportation because the tube system was tap-proof. With time, parallel tube networks like the “Secret Tube” in London developed.
To ensure no unauthorised access to highly confidential government documents was possible, a special runtime control was integrated in these tube systems. If the carrier was not delivered within a certain time, an alarm would be triggered.
When tube systems were booming, in 1935, Paris probably had the world’s longest system with around 467 km, followed by Berlin with 400 km.
At the beginning of World War II, tube systems slowly became less popular; many tubes were destroyed in bombings. And after the war the tube system ceased to be the means for transporting messages and was replaced by modern communication technology.
Tube Systems as a means for transportation in the 21st Century
Even when not always visible, tube systems still exist. Primarily hospitals utilize this system to transport e.g. blood samples or lab results back and forth. But universities or large offices also benefit from this fast means of transportation. And large department stores, petrol stations or casinos rely on tube systems to safely transport cash to the vault.
It may sound odd, but even in the 21st century the fast transportation via tube systems can still be a benefit: In Prague, capital of Czech Republic, letters are still transported via a tube system!
A look into the future: Tube systems for Travelling
The tube system’s future is already underway. Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla electric cars, is working on Hyperloop. The idea behind it is to transport people in vacuum tubes. Around 28 people will fit into one carrier. The first route is planned to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles, making it possible to cover that distance (600km/around 380 miles) in just half an hour.
But before tube systems for humans are a reality, it will still be a while.