In 1864, a Hugh B. Wilson
proposed an underground subway
system for New York
, having seen the opening of the London subway the previous year. The London locomotives
, which was not healthy for the passengers. This is what led Alfred Beach
to the idea of using pneumatic
s to propel the trains.
Wilson's proposal didn't pass. This was because the mayor of New York, Boss Tweed, received a kickback from every fare in the city and a subway would result in a loss of revenue for him.
Beach had a novel way of circumventing this little hitch. He had heard of a pneumatic mail tube system being implemented in London in 1866. This is similar to the system used today for transporting deposits in banks. Beach had the idea of transferring packages of people, rather than mail. This idea was partly due to the fact that people were in fact taking rides in the mail tubes.
After creating a small prototype for the American Institute Fair in 1867, for which he was awarded a gold medal, he had to find a way of getting the idea past Tweed. To build the subway would involve getting a franchise, which would mean giving money to Tweed.
Hence, Beach formed the Pneumatic Dispatch Company. He proposed to build two tunnels, four and a half feet wide and half a mile in length, intended to carry packages under Broadway. Since this was only for transporting mail, Tweed didn't object. He had been expecting Beach to propose an elevated mass transit system and was releaved that Beach was concentrating on something else.
Here's the devious bit. After Beach was issued with the charter, he submitted an ammendment. He wanted to build one large tunnel, rather than two smaller opnes, to reduce costs and simplify the construction procedure. This was a seemingly sensible modification and passed without any problems.
Construction was done in secret, working at night. Beach rented the basement of Devlin's Clothing Store and started digging under Broadway with a hydraulic sheild of his own invention. 6 people were involved in the digging, two to operate the machine, two to move the soil and two to build the brick walls. The soil was moved away in carts with muffled wheels.
When construction was almost complete, a reporter infiltrated the tunnel and wrote a story on the secret project. Beach countered by opening the station to the public, charging 25 cents for a viewing. The waiting room had fountains with goldfish, curtains, chandeliers a grand piano and a grandfather clock. The subway car had cushioned seats and gas lights.
In order to stay true to the charter, Beach included an 8 inch diameter mail tube to transport packages at 60mph.
The whole project cost $350,000, $70,000 of which was Beach's own money. The whole concept was very popular and there was demand for a city-wide implementation. But Tweed stood in the way and it never came to fruition. When Tweed lost his position, Beach tried again and the bill passed. However, finicial crisis in 1873 meant that building subways was the leastr of peoples worries and the idea died.
The tunnel was used as a wine cellar and a shooting range but when Beach realised he could never get back his money, the tunnel was sealed and forgotten.