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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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A Series of Tubes: 1943

A Series of Tubes: 1943

June 1943. Washington, D.C. "Miss Helen Ringwald, employee at the Western Union telegraph office, works with the pneumatic tubes through which messages are sent to branches in other parts of the city for delivery." Medium format nitrate negative by Esther Bubley for the Office of War Information. View full size.

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Aid to commerce

Pneumatic tubes replaced the older "trolley" or cable system for routing sales slips and cash to a central cashier not on the sales floor.

In the days before every department store purchase was self-service, this liberated sales clerks from having to maintain a till, speeding up customer service a bit but, more importantly, minimizing pilferage.

As a kid shopping with Mom at Best or Saks, I was always fascinated by the "whoosh - clunk" as the capsule returned to the sales counter with the change and the sales slip stamped "PAID."

Were the tubes under the streets?

I've seen these in department stores, but never knew that Western Union had a system under the streets. I can't remember ever seeing tubes along telephone lines, that's why I figure they're buried. Were they run along with the electrical conduits? Are they still there?

This is really interesting.


The lady is an early webmaster.

Tube Room

Worked at a large furniture and hardware wholesale company one summer in the 50's when I was 16. The man that worked in the central tube room went on vacation for 2 weeks and I got to route all of the tubes that flew in to be routed to the designated department. The learning curve on this job was a straight line.


Looks like the design work of Theodor Geisel if I am not mistaken.

Tube Trouble

When I worked as a pipefitter at Chrysler Canada in the 1960s we looked after the Lamson Tube system that ran throughout the plant to different departments. The thing I remember being the as being the main problem was small "dents" in the tubes from someone placing a ladder against the tube or something falling against the tube. It didn't take much of a dent "somewhere in the line" to hang that cartridge up. I spent quite a bit of time "walking the line" looking for dings.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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