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The History of Pneumatic Tube Systems

History of Pneumatic Tube Systems


Today, in our digital world it is hardly imaginable how letters were delivered more than 150 years ago. Even then, pneumatic tube systems were available to transport small items, telegrams and letters in small cylindrical containers via air pressure through a tube system. The first pneumatic tube system went into operation in London already in 1953, in Germany this system boomed in the early 20th century, making it simple to transport important documents in larger cities.

Pneumatic systems were especially important to deliver urgent messages: Even in the middle of the 19th century the streets in major cities were crowded, making it difficult for postmen to deliver important information, e.g. for stockbrokers, who would get their messages far too late.

Systems for governments and secret services

With time, top-secret parallel tube networks were built underground. Probably best-known is the “Secret Tube” in London, which covered an impressive 100 km in the mid-30s.

Via these tubes, highly confidential government documents were transported, among other things. To ensure no unauthorised access to documents was possible, a special runtime control was integrated, i.e. if a message was not delivered within a certain time an alarm would be triggered.

Secret services in particular liked to use this system, as it was tap-proof.

Tube Systems in the 21st Century

Even if some believe this system to be outdated, pneumatic tube systems still fulfil important tasks. Primarily hospitals utilize this system to transport x-ray images, blood- urine- and tissue samples.

The Medizinische Hochschule Hannover in Germany (Medical College) with its tube system spanning 50 km, which is probably the largest tube system in Europe, is a good example. It is impossible to image the medical sector without this possibility to transport important documents. For example: A transport via messenger by foot would take about 10 minutes longer and with serious test results time is crucial. The Heidelberg University Hospital or the Berlin Charité Hospital also count on tube systems for their day-to-day deliveries.

Pneumatic tube system in a range of sectors

Government offices like the chancellor’s use tube systems to transport files. And retail stores, petrol stations and supermarkets rely on these systems to transfer cash from the checkouts directly to the vault, eliminating risks associated with staff transporting the cash. In large companies, often spanning several buildings, the tubes help with fast goods transfer. Steel plants, chemical companies and the food industry also utilize pneumatic tube systems. A fast sample testing is no problem today. High-temperature materials, liquid or solid, the sample reaches its destination, cost efficient and without any delay.

Thanks to easy handling and little logistic and staffing need, pneumatic tube systems in the 21st century are still a widely used means for transportation.

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