Friday, February 21, 2014

wolves use tubes on wall street

At the movies the other night, watching Wolf of Wall Street. It's Jordan Belfort's first day as a stock broker, the beginnings of his infamous career. He is being shown around the place by Mark Hanna. Hanna is on the phone, makes a sale: "Done! Time to paint the tape! Wooh! A two thousand Microsoft goin' in the hole!". And there goes the ticket into the pneumatic tube. "It's alive, it's alive. Hold on to that, it's hot" Hanna yells. Jordan takes the capsule and opens up the door to the pneumatic tube system. "In in" Hanna urges. Jordan closes the door and it is off. "Sold!" Hanna exclaims!

This movie scene draws from Belfort's memoirs (an excerpt of which was published in Newsweek) of his first impressions of the chaos of Wall Street. He talks of pandemonium - buzzers and loudspeakers and shouting (the roar of the mob), sounds he writes he knew he'd never forget for they were the sounds of greed and ambition, which would come to define his own life. He describes the role that the tubes had to play in this chaos:
Every so often a broker would slam his phone down in victory and then fill out a buy ticket and walk over to a pneumatic tubing system that had been affixed to a support column. He would stick the ticket in a glass cylinder and watch it get sucked up into the ceiling. From there, the ticket made its way to the trading desk on the other side of the building, where it would be rerouted to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for execution. So the ceiling had been lowered to make room for the tubing, and it seemed to bear down on my head. 
He was so smooth on the phone that it literally boggled my mind. It was as if he were apologizing to his clients as he ripped their eyeballs out. 'Sir, let me say this,' ... Two minutes later Mark was at the tubing system with a quartermillion-dollar buy order for a stock called Microsoft. I’d never heard of Microsoft before, but it sounded like a pretty decent company. Anyway, Mark’s commission on the trade was $3,000. I had seven dollars in my pocket.
Not for long.

Use of pneumatic tubes on the stock exchange dates back to the 1920. The scene above, set in 1987, must be describing one of the last remnants of the pneumatic tube system on Wall Street, as according to A Financial History of the United States, by the mid- 1960s Wall Street firms were gradually replacing pneumatic systems with computerised systems. Although only a very brief moment in the movie, according to New York Arts, Scorsese did some painstaking research into the function of pneumatic tubes, for his historical portrayal of the stock exchange in the 1980s.

Movie quotes from moviequotesandmore.


  1. We are the vendor that supplied the system. I haven't seen Wolf yet but I have heard that it was featured well. We are hoping it wins the Oscar for Best Film. We supplied a system for ARGO and that would make 2 in a row.

  2. Hi Aaron, thanks for your comment - the pneumatic tube did make a great appearance in Wolf of Wall Street (definitely deserving of a nomination for best supporting technology) and you have reminded me too of the CIA tubes in Argo - thanks! They must have been interesting installations.