Historical Echoes: Pneumatic Tubes and Banking -Liberty Street Economics
Liberty Street Economics

« Euro Area Spending Imbalances and the Sovereign Debt Crisis | Main | The Flash Crash, Two Years On »

May 04, 2012

Historical Echoes: Pneumatic Tubes and Banking

Amy Farber, New York Fed Research Library

Pneumatic tubes—a system in which cylinder-shaped containers (that could contain messages, money, small objects, and even food) are propelled through a network of tubes via compressed air or partial vacuum—are a relatively old technology. (Pneumatic tubes were patented in the United States in 1940, with earlier forms existing prior to this date). But when used in innovative ways in the past, they were viewed as futuristic. What may come to mind first is the use of pneumatic tubes in George Orwell’s 1984 (1949) to transport messages and newspapers. The 1954 film of the book depicts the use of the technology (starting three minutes into this clip).

     In Bill Bryson’s homage to growing up in the 1950s, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir, he describes the use of pneumatic tubes in a department store:

Every commercial enterprise had something distinctive to commend it. The New Utica department store downtown had pneumatic tubes rising from each cash register. The cash from your purchase was placed in a cylinder, then inserted in the tubes and fired—like a torpedo—to a central collection point, such was the urgency to get the money counted and back into the economy. A visit to the New Utica was like a trip to a future century.

     What does this have to do with banks? According to Kent Mustoe, an engineering student and member of a group called the Pneumanics (a team of six students in the L05 section of ECE4007, Georgia Tech's senior design course for electrical engineers), banking is one of the industries with the longest running use of this technology. He states in his paper, “Pneumatic Transport System Uses and Advances”:

The banking industry is one of the longest running users of a pneumatic transport system. Their method of transportation consists of a single input, single output tube system that connects the bank teller from inside the bank to the customer at an outside terminal . . . This is one of the most practical uses of a pneumatic system due to the fact that the distance between the two end ports is so short. Also the material of the objects being moved is usually paper, which is light weight . . .

     Many youtube.com videos about pneumatic tubes in drive-thru banking feature cars crashing into bank structures, but there is also a short video that features a Canadian woman who is delighted to use the bank drive-through.

     According to an article in Adweek in 2010, Citadel Bank was running ads featuring a pneumatic tube. However, instead of cash, the tube carried rate announcements and customer inquiries, which were received and read by a nerdy spokesman named Lewis.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author.
Posted by Blog Author at 07:00:00 AM in Historical Echoes

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

The comments to this entry are closed.

About the Blog
Liberty Street Economics features insight and analysis from New York Fed economists working at the intersection of research and policy. Launched in 2011, the blog takes its name from the Bank’s headquarters at 33 Liberty Street in Manhattan’s Financial District.

The editors are Michael Fleming, Andrew Haughwout, Thomas Klitgaard, and Asani Sarkar, all economists in the Bank’s Research Group.

Liberty Street Economics does not publish new posts during the blackout periods surrounding Federal Open Market Committee meetings.

The views expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the New York Fed or the Federal Reserve System.

Economic Research Tracker

Liberty Street Economics is now available on the iPhone® and iPad® and can be customized by economic research topic or economist.

Most Viewed

Last 12 Months
Useful Links
Comment Guidelines
We encourage your comments and queries on our posts and will publish them (below the post) subject to the following guidelines:
Please be brief: Comments are limited to 1500 characters.
Please be quick: Comments submitted after COB on Friday will not be published until Monday morning.
Please be aware: Comments submitted shortly before or during the FOMC blackout may not be published until after the blackout.
Please be on-topic and patient: Comments are moderated and will not appear until they have been reviewed to ensure that they are substantive and clearly related to the topic of the post. We reserve the right not to post any comment, and will not post comments that are abusive, harassing, obscene, or commercial in nature. No notice will be given regarding whether a submission will or will not be posted.‎
Disclosure Policy
The LSE editors ask authors submitting a post to the blog to confirm that they have no conflicts of interest as defined by the American Economic Association in its Disclosure Policy. If an author has sources of financial support or other interests that could be perceived as influencing the research presented in the post, we disclose that fact in a statement prepared by the author and appended to the author information at the end of the post. If the author has no such interests to disclose, no statement is provided. Note, however, that we do indicate in all cases if a data vendor or other party has a right to review a post.