Sunday, November 26, 2017

Congressional records

While there is a lot going on at the moment with the Hyperloop including new routes announced around the world, carving up the world map like a big Ticket to Ride board (I can see the Hyperloop boardgame already), more funding and Richard Branson joining the scene, in coming posts I want to look at where pneumatic tubes have been appearing lately in other news.

As I start winter with old episodes of West Wing, sent to me in the post on DVD by my mum, a good place to start is the Library of Congress Book Tunnel, which Atlas Obscura recently showcased. The building opened to the public in 1898 and it soon became clear that there was the:
Serious question how some senator, for instance, in the heat of a fiery debate on the floor, could in the shortest space of time get to his hand some particular volume whose authority would unhorse his antagonist - a volume nestled, perhaps, deep in the shelves of the library, a quarter of a mile away.
Pneumatic tubes were the answer, thanks to the Miles Pneumatic Tube Company. Requests for the documents would be sent via tube, and then the texts whisked back. As Obscura write, "this whole literary orchestra took just five minutes, likely less time than it would take your average contemporary congressman to pull up an arcane PDF through"

Alas, a century later the pneumatic system closed down, although apparently a tunnel remains where you can still see librarians wheeling those old-fashioned things called books around on carts.

You can read more about the system on the Library of Congress' blog.

Image of Library of Congress pneumatic tube system from ep_jhu's Flickr album, used under the creative common licence.