"N.Y. Post Office Pneumatic Tube" c. 1912.  G.G. Bain Collection.“N.Y. Post Office Pneumatic Tube” c. 1912. G.G. Bain Collection via Flickr.

Earlier this month, we found an NYC coffee shop designed to sort, roast, and transport its coffee beans around the store through the use of vacuum-aided pneumatic tubes. Almost two years ago, we found evidence of New York’s pneumatic-tube aided mail system, 27 miles long, connecting 23 post offices, and retired in 1953.

Today, we’ll show you where some remnants of the system are and where pneumatic tubes are still used in the city.


Pneumatic Coffee Shop Roasting Plant-NYC-Untapped Cities-Jinwoo Chong-5

Mike Caswell, founder of NYC’s Roasting Plant coffee shops, has an engineering degree. To be completely honest, there isn’t any away he couldn’t have an engineering degree, judging from the system of vacuum-aided pneumatic tubes that automatically sort, roast, and transport a variety of coffee beans around the space of his two Manhattan stores. He calls the whole setup Javabot, the roasting component of which is visible through the store’s window and is frequently Instagram-ed by passersby.


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The New York City subway carries many secrets, like any extensive system that was built over time. But the NYC subway also comes with it quite a bit of lore–from its urban explorers who have explored every nook of its vastness, the technological feat it was to build in some of the toughest Manhattan schist, and its evolution from high-class experiment to mass ridership.

No list of subway secrets can be complete, so we see this article as an evolving entity. We’ve started with our favorite secrets but encourage you all to comment and Tweet at us (@untappedcities) with other hidden gems. Special thanks to Matt Litwack, author of Beneath the Streets: The Hidden Relics of New York’s Subway System for contributing his finds to this piece.


Pneumatic-Tube-System-Untapped-CitiesPhoto via Twitter user Tim Wallace

As we’ve mentioned before, New York City’s original pneumatic tube mail network has a fairly interesting history, transporting mail–and once, even a cat–throughout the city from 1897 to 1953. There are some remnants of the 27-mile postal system (which linked 23 post offices) still viewable to the intrepid, but images like this early-twentieth-century map reveal the extent of the unique delivery system and the promise it once held, as well as how some destinations on the network have evolved.


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Diagram of how the vacuum system would be used in homes and how the waste would be handled in the cleaning plant. Image from Science and Invention’s August 1922 issue, sourced from Paleofuture.

It’s hard to imagine NYC without its current sewer systems, but before the advent of remotely monitored sewer systems, the city not only directly monitored its sewers, but it was also considered perfectly acceptable to dump raw waste into the ocean before the Ocean Dumping Act was enforced in 1991.

Even with these modern-day waste issues, however, the city sewer system has improved a great deal since the turn of the 20th century. Before modern sewage, New York once had piles of trash lined up on the streets, creating a strong fecal odor composed of horse manure and urine.


Pneumatic Tube-86th and Lexington-Office Building.jpg-largePneumatic tube system discovered by an Untapped Cities reader on 86th and Lexington Avenue

Untapped Cities Twitter follower, @justinr592, submitted this photograph he snapped of a pneumatic tube system from his office on 86th Street and Lexington Avenue. He also tweeted, “From the pneumatic tube map you have up, it seems like the Gracie [Mansion] area. Hmm…”