Pneumatic (adj.): of, or pertaining to, air, gases, or wind.
In the world before telephone, radio, and email, the tasks of transmitting information and moving material objects were essentially the same challenge. The way you sent someone a message was pretty much the same process as sending someone a package—you had to send a piece of physical media through the post, or on a ship.
It was really the telegraph that divided telling someone something from far away and giving someone something from far away. But every day people didn’t speak morse code (or have telegraph equipment). The message had to be deciphered, written on a slip of paper, and then that was delivered to the recipient. For many cities, the pneumatic tube was essential in getting these slips of paper to the intended recipient quickly.
It’s no surprise that electronic communication eventually killed most of the need for pneumatic tubes. But you may not know that it was the telegraph itself that also put pneumatic tubes into widespread use.
Architectural historian and pneumatic tube aficionada Molly Wright Steenson leads us through the rise and fall (but not disappearance of) pneumatic tubes in Paris, and beyond.