The Remarkable Pneumatic People-Mover

Posted on April 12, 2008 

The Remarkable Pneumatic People-Mover

The ventilation grate of New York's first subway system

On the eighth of February 1912, a small group of officials arrived at City Hall Park on Manhattan’s Broadway street. The men gathered at one grassy corner of the park grounds, where a long-neglected iron grating protected the entrance to a seemingly unremarkable ventilation shaft. The heavy, rust-encrusted grille was pried from its resting place, and with lanterns in hand the men descended one by one into the cavity.

About twenty feet below the pavement the group emerged into an eight-foot-wide brickwork tube, the end of which was beyond the immediate reach of the lights. The sturdily-constructed tunnel was a relic from the years following the American Civil War, and it had remained virtually forgotten beneath the streets of New York since its main entrance was sealed sometime around 1880. As the men explored, they found the tunnel in remarkably good condition in spite of its age. When they reached the end of the tube, the men happened upon the wrecked remains of a unique mechanism for transport: a pair of carriages from America’s first subway, the experimental and ill-fated Pneumatic Transit System.


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