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Dusting Off: The Pneumatic Tube

  • Najib Benouar

Pneumatic Tube

Countless devices have become obsolete since the advent of the digital age, but one of the most overlooked casualties has to be the pneumatic tube.

It went the way of the telegram decades ago (you’ll still find a few intact tube systems here or there—in a Midwestern packing plant or an old airport terminal—but even those are rarely used nowadays). This was the instant messenger that predated AOL by a century, thanks to some Industrial Age ingenuity and a giant air compressor. And we think it needs to make a comeback.

A case for dusting off the pneumatic tube.

Pneumatic Tube

It’s hard to explain why we sometimes pine for the analog era over the comforts of the digital age—like how putting pen to pad feels more satisfying than firing off a quick thank-you over email. It just does. And while handwriting and printing presses might never disappear entirely, things like the pneumatic tube have become just another piece of nostalgia.

But even today, the thought of sending a message jotted on a real piece of paper up a tube and watching it whiz away to its destination a few floors away, signaled by that loud thunk as the compressed air vacuums it up, feels pretty futuristic. It still conjures that same Jetsons-esque wonderment for a future world that has yet to materialize.

Pneumatic Tube

That’s right Detroit, we’re still waiting on flying cars.