Pneumatic post

Pneumatic post in metropolises.
Probably the term "pneumatic post" does not ring a bell to you, because this form of mail has never been used in the Netherlands. In many large cities in Western Europe such as London, Paris, Vienna, Rome, Berlin and Prague, this particular method of mail has been used in practice.

Post through a tube
Drinking through a strawThe basic idea of pneumatic post is simple. Put the mail in a cartridge, and send this cartridge by pressure through a tube to its destination. The basic driving force is air pressure or pneumatics. The principle of air pressure goes back to the year 100 BC, Heron of Alexandria. Think of a hot summer day, on a terrace with a nice cold drink and a straw... By sucking on the straw, you create vacuum in the straw. The liquid in the glass will be sucked up into your mouth due to this sub-atmospheric pressure. Blow gently into the straw, and the fluid level in the straw lowers again and the liquid flows back into the glass. This is the working principle of pneumatic or air pressure.

Around 1800 the Scottish engineer William Murdoch used this principle for his invention: pneumatic post. A tubular cartridge fits, by means of a flexible seal, just in a transport tube. When we connect the end of the transport tube to a fan and let it blow into the tube the pressure rises. Due to this pressure the cartridge will start to move from the fan:

Pneumatic post operated with over-pressure

On the other hand, if we let the fan suck on the transport tube, the cartridge will start to move in the opposite direction towards the fan:

Pneumatic post operated with sub-pressure

In this way the cartridge moves through the transport tube. In the base station (pneumatic post office) a switch is mounted on each transport tube, which detects cartridges and tells the pneumatic controller to turn off the fan (see the maximum card below).

French FDC on the occasion of 100 years of pneumatic post

Industrial Revolution
The Pneumatic Despatch Company was founded in London in 1859 after several successful experiments with sending mail through a specially constructed network of tubes. These tubes measured three meters in diameter and wagons with bags of mail were sent to Euston Station Eversholt Street and vice versa.

The invention of the steam engine and its applications in all types of transport machinery did cause an "industrial revolution". The world began to change and cities grew due to the prosperity and changing economic conditions. Streets became crowded and pneumatic post was seen as the solution to enable swift delivery of the mail. In most cities the Stock Exchange was the main station in the tube network. Apparently they had most advantage of fast mail delivery.

Historical development of postal tubes in various cities:

  • 1853: the London Stock Exchange was linked with the city's main telegraph station (a distance of 220 yards)
  • 1865: in Berlin (until 1976), the Rohrpost, a system of 400 kilometers total length at its peak in 1940Historische ontwikkeling van buizenpost in diverse steden:

Rohrpost Germany
Tube post (Rohrpost) Germany

  • 1866: Paris (until 1984, total length of 467 kilometers in 1934)

French pneumatic post letter
Indiacation "Pneumatique" on French letter

  • 1875: in Vienna (until 1956)
  • 1887: in Prague (until 2002 due to flooding), the Prague pneumatic post
  • 1897: New York City (until 1953)
  • Other cities include: Munich, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Hamburg, Rome, Naples, Milan, Marseille, Melbourne, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis.

High speeds
Underground fairly high speeds could be achieved. In Paris the compressed air powered cartridges travelled as fast as seventy kilometers per hour. In 1966 France issued a special stamp to mark the centenary of the pneumatic post service. The Stock Exchange building, depicted in the centre of the network, was even accessible by tube until 1984.

French stamp with pneumatic post network

French card with overview pneumatic post network

In Italy different stamps specifically for tube mail have been issued between 1913 and 1945:

Italian stamp for pneumatic post
Italian stamps for pneumatic post

Postal stationary from a few other countries

Special card for Vienna pneumatic post
Special card for Vienna pneumatic post

Italian pneumatic post stamp on letter
Italian pneumatic post stamp on letter

What has pneumatic post to do with motorcycles?
In an urban area pneumatic post is the best way to send mail quickly from office to office. From the pneumatic post offices the mail was brought to the final recipients by mail men. In the center of cities where tube post has been implemented mail will be sent to addresses within that region, but also to urban areas on the outskirts of the city or even outside the city. In that case, only part of the journey was made by pneumatic post. From the pneumatic post office, the mail was further delivered by the normal postal transport.
In Paris mail heading for certain suburbs, banlieues, outside the pneumatic post region was further transported by motorcycle.

French Carte Pneumatic Chaplain

See choice b) on the form

This special form of transport is only indicated on the Carte Pneumatique type 'Chaplain'. This pneumatic card comes in four different values: 1 Fr 60, Fr 3, 8 and 12 Fr 40 Fr.

French Carte Pneumatic Chaplain - 1 Fr 60
French Carte Pneumatic Chaplain - 3 Fr
French Carte Pneumatic Chaplain
French Carte Pneumatic Chaplain - 8 Fr 40
French Carte Pneumatic Chaplain - 12 Fr

More information about postal tubes can be found on the website:


Nico Helling


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