Beach Pneumatic Transit
The Broadway Pneumatic Underground Railway - View of car in motion.
The Interborough Rapid Transit subway, which broke ground in 1900 after many years of political maneuvering, was not the first attempt at transit tunneling in New York City. Several other groups attempted to build tunnel lines with varying degrees of success.
Probably the most well known of these early attempts, at least in terms of subway lore, was an 1870 demonstration line, the Beach Pneumatic Transit. Alfred Ely Beach, inventor and editor of Scientific American, had designed a pneumatic (air-driven) system which he demonstrated at the American Institute Fair in 1867, and he thought it viable for transit operation in underground tunnels. He applied for a permit from the Tammany Hall city government, and after being denied, decided to build the line in secrecy, in an attempt to show that subterranean transit was practical. (He actually did receive a permit to built a pneumatic package delivery system, originally of two small tunnels from Warren St. to Cedar St., later amended to be one large tunnel, to "simplify construction" of what he really intended to build.)
The Beach tunnel was constructed in only 58 days, starting under Warren Street and Broadway, directly across from City Hall. The station was under the south sidewalk of Warren Street just west of the Broadway corner. The single track tunnel ran east into Broadway, curved south, and ran down the middle of Broadway to Murray Street, a distance of one block, about 300 feet in all. The subway opened to the public on February 26, 1870.
Operated as a demonstration from 1870 to 1873, the short tunnel had only the one station and train car. While frequently mentioned as an important early development in New York City's transit history, it was merely a curiosity. It is unclear that such a system could have been practical on a large scale. Smaller tube systems are used in buildings for mail delivery, but a rail-car sized system has never been developed. The perfection of electric multiple-unit traction and electric locomotives came about so quickly after this experiment that it wasn't deemed worthwhile to even try an expanded pneumatic system.
In 1912, construction workers on what is now the BMT Broadway subway (N and R trains) took possession of the tunnel, and found the original shield at the south end of the tunnel, as well as the wooden remains of the car. The successor company to Beach Pneumatic Transit even sued the city for destroying their property! (The outcome of this lawsuit is unknown.)
So what remains now? Probably nothing. The tunnel under Broadway was almost definitely destroyed during the BMT subway construction. A report in the New York Times in 1912 describes the tunnel, but the station had probably been destroyed when the building at Broadway & Warren was torn down and rebuilt. During the replacement of the building, the station, which was essentially a basement vault under the sidewalk, may have been incorporated into the new basement. Gratings in the sidewalk on Warren Street indicate some vault or ventilation areas are down there today.
Left to right: Sketch of the portal; interior of the car (1870).
Left to right: The Tunnel. Under Broadway - A Passenger Station.
Left to right: Sketch of Beach installation at the American Institute Fair. Alfred Ely Beach. Remains of the tunnel (1912).
A section of the great tunneling machine.
- 1 Beach Pneumatic Transit Bibliography
- 2 Articles
- 2.1 The Pneumatic Tube on Broadway -- Further Action of Mayor Hall
- 2.2 The Broadway Mystery - Some Account of the Pneumatic Railway
- 2.3 Who Owns Broadway
- 2.4 The Broadway Tunnel
- 2.5 The Pneumatic Tunnel Under Broadway
- 2.6 First Subway 40 Years Ago
- 2.7 Broadway Tube Proposed in 1849
- 2.8 Plaque in City Hall Station to Mark First Subway Site
- 2.9 New York's First Subway
Beach Pneumatic Transit Bibliography
- The Pneumatic Dispatch, Alfred Ely Beach, 1868. Subtitle: "A compilation of notices and information concerning the pneumatic system of transportation as now building and operating in England; together with taccounts of its first trial in the United States, and of proposed applications of the system to passenger and postal service, including descriptions of sub-aqueous and other tunnels."
- The Pneumatic Tube on Broadway -- Further Action of Mayor Hall, New York Times, January 5, 1870.
- The Broadway Mystery - Some Account of the Pneumatic Railway, New York Times, January 8, 1870.
- Who Owns Broadway, New York Times, January 29, 1870.
- The Broadway Tunnel, New York Times, February 27, 1870.
- The Pneumatic Tunnel Under Broadway, Alfred Ely Beach, Scientific American, March 5, 1870, page 154.
- "Under Broadway," Harper's Weekly, March 12, 1870.
- Illustrated description of the Broadway underground railway, New York: Beach Pneumatic Transit Co., 1872.
- The Beach Pneumatic Transit Company's Broadway Underground Railway, New York: Croker & Telfer, 1873. Subtitle: "With complete maps of the city of New York and adjacent territory, showing the main lines and connections of the Broadway underground railway, profiles of the routes, etc.; together with approximate estimates of cost and traffic, text of the charters of the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company, legal proceedings and miscellaneous information."
- First Subway 40 Years Ago, New York Times, February 4, 1912, page 15.
- "New York's First Subway", Waldemar Kaempffert, Scientific American, February 24, 1912 (volume 106, pages 176-177).
- Broadway Tube Proposed in 1849, New York Times, September 12, 1926.
- Plaque in City Hall Station to Mark First Subway Site, New York Times, September 15, 1932, page 23.
- New York's First Subway, New York Times, February 27, 1940.
- First Subway Here Was Like A Popgun: Opened 80 Years Ago, It Shot Its Car, Full of Passengers, With Compressed Air, New York Times, February 25, 1950.
- Alfred Ely Beach And His Wonderful Pneumatic Underground Railway, American Heritage, June 1961.
- "New York's Secret Subway", by Oliver E. Allen, American Heritage of Invention & Technology, Winter 1997, (pages 44-48).
- Alfred Beach's Pneumatic Subway and the beginnings of rapid transit in New York, by Joe Brennan, is now the premiere web site about the Beach tunnel experiment.
- Pneumatic Transit Animation by Abby Digital. An animated tour of the Beach station, car, and tunnel.
The Pneumatic Tube on Broadway -- Further Action of Mayor Hall
The New York Times · January 5, 1870
A motion has been made in the Legislature for the repeal of the bill authorizing the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company to run an underground tube from the corner of Warren-street and Broadway, beneath Broadway, to within 200 feet of Cedar-street. The bill granting the Company the privilege of prosecuting their work was, it appears, in the form of an amendment to an old bill, and it was thus got through the Legislature without attracting special attention.
Yesterday Mayor Hall had a conference with the Deputy Corporation Counsel in regard to the rights of the City in this matter. The Mayor has some doubts as to whether the Legislature can give a company the right to excavate beneath a street, and thus, in some measure, to place both public and private property in danger. Mr. O'Gorman, the Corporation Counsel, was unable, through sickness, to attend the conference. Should he be of the opinion that the rights of the City Government are being infringed the matter will at once be brought before the Courts.
Something has been said in regard to the caving in of the surface of the east side of Broadway above the Pneumatic tube. There is certainly a flattening of the surface of the Broadway pavement, near Warren-street, but whether this is due to the underground excavations or to the imperfect manner which the pavement was laid is questionable. The Company declare that, as yet, the excavation has barely reached Broadway, and that consequently the caving in of the street is all nonsense.
The Broadway Mystery - Some Account of the Pneumatic Railway
The New York Times · January 8, 1870
Explanation from the Superintendent. Mr. Joseph Dixon, the Secretary and Superintendent of the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company, whose underground operations on Broadway, near the City Hall Park, have excited the curiosity of many, sends us a communication, in which, after telling us something about the application for a charter for the Company, he says:
"This bill was approved June 1, 1868, when we immediately began to prosecute the work. The bill contained a clause requiring us to commence our tubes at the Post Office. We accordingly applied to the Postmaster, and also to the Postmaster-General, for permission to connect our tubes with the Post Office, but we were refused on the ground of want of authority. We then applied to the owners of various buildings near the Post Office, but could obtain no premises at any price; in the mean time we had gone to great expense in preparing the machinery necessary for our work. We finally leased the premises corner Warren-street and Broadway, and in 1869 obtained an amendment to our charter, by which we were permitted to build the experimental line from Warren-street down Broadway to Cedar-street. Governor Hoffman signed this bill May 3, 1869. We at once set to work, determined to build the line without a flourish of trumpets, leaving the Press and public to decide by an inspection of our work as to its merits. Our original intention was to construct the entire line of tunnel from Warren to Cedar-street, before opening it for inspection, but we have concluded to yield to the strong desire manifested by the Press for an earlier examination. We have, therefore, stopped work on the tunnel and are now fitting up the blowing machinery, engines, boilers, waiting rooms, &c., with a view of inviting public inspection. In reference to the ridiculous stories that have been circulated about our men being sworn to secrecy, and the doors being closed to all persons, there is no truth in them. Our work has been carried out under the constant supervision of the officers of the Croton Aqueduct Department, where all our plans are matters of public record. It has been alleged that the surface of the pavement on Broadway has settled slightly in consequence of the building of our tunnel. If it appears that we have so disturbed the pavement, it will become our duty to make the needful repairs at our own expense, that being one of the stipulations expressed in our charter. As to danger from caving, the Chief Engineer of the Croton Aqueduct Department has reported officially to the Mayor that the street is perfectly safe, and that our works are constructed in a substantial manner of iron plates and brick masonry. Our tunnel commences at the southwest corner of Broadway and Warren-street, curving out to the centre of Broadway, and continuing down to a little below Murray-street. It has an interior diameter of eight feet, but when finished will have a dividing wall in the centre so as to form a double line of tubes, each a little less than fifty-four inches of interior diameter, as provided by law. The top of the tunnel comes within twelve feet of the pavement, so that the walls of adjoining buildings can in no way be affected. We should have preferred to keep silent until our work could speak for us; as it is, we beg the Press and public to have a little patience, and in three or four weeks at furthest we will cheerfully afford them an opportunity of inspecting our premises and forming their own judgment as to its merits."
Who Owns Broadway
The New York Times · January 29, 1870
The Pneumatic Transit Company in Trouble--The City Claims $100,000 Damages Against the Company--Motion for an Injunction
Although we have heard much about the efforts of the City authorities to prevent the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company from continuing their operations under Broadway, between Warren and Murray streets, and from time to time items have been published in the daily journals to the effect that the corporate authorities were about to commence legal proceedings to restrain the Company from further prosecuting their enterprise, yesterday was the first time that the matter came before the Court in any tangible shape. The allegations of the complaint are substantially that the defendants are an incorporated Company, organized under the act of the Legislature of the State, passed in 1868, and amended in 1869. By the terms of their charter they were to be called "The Beach Pneumatic Transit Company", and were authorized to construct pneumatic tubes for the conveyance of letters and packages, under the streets of this City and Brooklyn, and beneath the North and East Rivers, but as an experimental work they were first to construct a line under Broadway, from Warren-street to Cedar, and to connect at Nassau-street with the General Post Office. Mr. Jones, the Postmaster, however, refused to grant any permission to connect the tubes with his office, and based his refusal on the grounds that the Postmaster-General said he had no authority in the premises. As our readers know, the work was commenced some months ago at the corner of Warren-street and Broadway, under the clothing establishment of Messrs. Devlin & Co., and had proceeded nearly or quite to Murray-street, when this action was commenced by the Mayor, Aldermen, &c., avowedly for the purpose of obtaining a permanent injunction against the Company. The city claims that it has already sustained damages to the extent of $100,000. According to the charter, the Company were bound to submit their plans to the approval of the Croton Board. This, it appears, they did, and with the approval of the officers of that Board, and under their direction, proceedings were commenced as above stated.
The argument on the motion for the injunction was commenced yesterday before Judge Cardozo, of the Supreme Court, at Chambers. Mr. Richard O'Gorman, the counsel to the Corporation, and Mr. A. S. Sullivan appeared for the City, and Mr. John Graham and Messrs. Betts and Mathews for the Company. An affidavit of Mr. Dean, assistant to the Corporation Counsel, was read, setting forth the facts mainly as stated in the complaint. On the other side, counsel read the affidavits of Alfred E. beach, Joseph A. Miller, Alfred W. Craven, formerly Chief Engineer of the Croton Board, George S. Green, and W. J. Holroyde.
The latter deposed that for ten years past he has been a civil engineer; that he has surveyed Broadway between Warren and Murray streets, and is acquainted with the size of the defendants' works, and of the size of the water and gas pipes now existing in that portion of Broadway; that the width of the carriageway of Broadway at the point named is 43.5 feet; that the depth of the soil, from the surface of the street to high water level, is 37 feet 4 inches, and that the area of the cross section is, therefore, 1622.5 feet; that no public sewer now exists on that portion of Broadway, that a 12-inch sewer will be sufficiently large for such portion should sewerage become necessary; that the cross section area now occupied by the all the gas pipes, water pipes, and proposed sewer, is 8.15 feet; that the area occupied by the existing works of the defendants is 68.41 feet, leaving a total area in said cross section of 1,546 feet, which is sufficient space to accommodate more than 180 separate lines of pipes of the respective sizes of those the plaintiffs now laid in said street. Deponent says that he has been employed in the construction of the defendants' works from their commencement, and that he prepared the plans for the works, which are to consist of four pneumatic tubes, of which two are to have a mean interior diameter of 52.1 inches each, the remaining two a diameter of 16 inches each; that the method of adopted for building said works was the first to erect an outer inclosure wall for all the tubes, which wall forms part of the interior wall of said tubes; that said outer wall or skin is eight inches thick and eight feet interior diameter; that the said method of construction is a good and proper method; that the dimensions of the inclosing wall are of the proper dimensions, and no larger than necessary to receive the proper and substantial construction of the pneumatic tubes; that during the construction of defendants' works there has been no disturbance of, or any interference with the gas pipes, water pipes, public sewer or other underground works of the plaintiff.
Alfred E. Beach, one of the corporators, in an affidavit denies that the plaintiffs are the owners in fee of Broadway, and alleges that whatever right, title, interest or authority over that street is held by the plaintiffs in trust for such public uses as the Legislature shall, from time to time, declare and provide. That the Legislature have full and exclusive right and power to declare the uses to which the soil of the street shall be put, and that the charter of the Company gives them the full power to construct the works. They deny that any damage has been suffered by the operations of the defendants.
George S. Green, Engineer and Commissioner of the Croton Aqueduct Department, states that he is fully cognizant of the plans of the work; that the tube is of the proper size. The method of construction is a proper one, as tending to economize expense and shorten the time of construction; that the method of construction and the laying of the masonry is very little likely to disturb the surface of the street, interrupt travel thereon, or impair gas and water pipes or sewers; that the construction will not prevent the proper sewerage of the streets, &c.
Mr. O'Gorman said: The real question submitted was very grave and one of the greatest importance, involving the point as to what rights the Corporation of this City have in its streets, or whether it has any rights at all. The affidavits which had been read on the other side were unknown to him until within a few moments, but it seemed that he could without damage readily conceive all their averments. The real question did not depend on the affidavits, but upon the issue of law directly taken by the defendants. The proceedings had had the implied sanction of one of the Executive Departments of the City (the Croton Board), and it might be argued from that that the City had waived its right to object to the proceedings. The answer was that by law they had no right to assent to it. Conceding that no serious damage had been done to any existing civic institutions on the surface of the street, the objection was that it affected the future rights of the City to build other and larger sewers and gas pipes; that they did as little damage to the City's property as possible, did not affect the question. The averment of the engineers is that there is no reason to believe that any future necessities of the City will be injured by tunneling, was not a matter of fact, but of opinion. What man could form any reliable opinion as to the future? The position he took was, that the fee of Broadway, and of all the streets in the City which may be affected by the defendants' operations, is vested in the City in trust; that these lands should be applied forever to the purposes of streets. The case now presented was, he submitted, altogether a new one, and the questions were entirely novel. In former cases, when railway companies claimed authority from the Legislature to use the surface of the streets, that claim was to a transient passage across the surface. Here, below the surface was used, and not a transient but a permanent occupation was claimed.
Judge Cardozo--"Is not the question res adjudicula, unless it can be shown that this case is distinct from the railroad cases?"
Mr. O'Gorman said that the adjudications would be found to be embraced within very small limits and extended the legislative power very little, but unfortunately most of the Judges had indulged in arbiter dicta, giving what the law was, or ought to be, altogether apart from the real questions in the case. On this he cited several cases in point.
Mr. Graham made a very long argument in reply. He said several questions were to be considered:
1. The character of the title of the plaintiffs to exclusive possession of the lands in question.
2. The damages, if any, suffered by the plaintiffs by the acts of the defendants.
3. The rights of the defendants to enter upon the land and perform the acts complained of.
4. The equitable considerations which should prevent the issuing of a preliminary injunction.
In pursuing his argument he contended that the City Corporation was organized solely for the purpose of government and local regulation. It was admitted on all hands that the Legislature has an unqualified right to resume the powers of government which it has delegated to the City. On the point raised by the plaintiffs that this enterprise is a private one, and that public property cannot be taken for its use, counsel cited a portion of the act of incorporation, as follows:
"The use of said streets, squares, and avenues and public places, and the soil beneath the surface thereof, as herein authorized and provided for, is hereby declared to be a public use thereof, consistent with the uses for which the said respective cities (New-York and Brooklyn), or the corporate authorities thereof, hold the said streets, squares, avenues, and public places."
In conclusion, Mr. Graham said: The plaintiffs have lain by and watched the defendants expend a very large amount of money upon these works, viz.: $150,000, and now at this late day come forward and ask for an injunction, the granting of which would result in a total loss to the defendants of all the money the plaintiffs have acquiesced in their expending. No injunction, preliminary or final, should issue in such a case until the plaintiffs have clearly established their rights to prohibit the acts complained of, nor until the plaintiffs have done equity by full compensation to the defendants. An injunction will never issue to restrain any mere trespass, where the damages are susceptible of computation and recovery at law. Any possible damage to the plaintiffs would only be the cost of restoring the land to its original condition, which the defendants are entirely able to meet.
At the conclusion of Mr. Graham's argument, the Court adjourned until this morning when the Corporation Counsel will make the closing address.
The Broadway Tunnel
The New York Times · February 27, 1870
Opening the Bore to Public Inspection--Success of the Undertaking--Great Crowd of Visitors
Certainly the most novel, if not the most successful, enterprise that New-York has seen for in many a day is the Pneumatic Tunnel under Broadway. A myth, or a humbug, it has hitherto been called by everybody who has been excluded from its interior; but hereafter the incredulous public can have the opportunity of examining the undertaking and judging of its merits. Yesterday the tunnel was thrown open to the inspection of visitors for the first time, and it must be said that every one of them came away surprised and gratified. Such as expected to find a dismal, cavernous retreat under Broadway, opened their eyes at the elegant reception room, the light, airy tunnel and the general appearance of taste and comfort in all the apartments, and those who entered to pick out some scientific flaw in the project, were silenced by the completeness of the machinery, the solidity of the work, and the safety of the running apparatus.
The entrance to this tunnel is on Broadway, at the corner of Warren-street. At the bottom of the steps is the entrance to an office, and the apartment of the "rotary blower", a huge paddle-box-like affair, neatly frescoed on the outside. To the right a door leads into a long hall, down a few more steps, and directly under the Warren-street sidewalk, which is the "depot" of the establishment, and is handsomely fitted out with a fountain, paintings, and seats. This hall opens towards Broadway to the tunnel, at the entrance of which stands a car ready for passengers. Adjoining the depot is the machinery for pumping the air in and out of the tube, which is worthy of an examination. The tunnel way itself, how it looks, and how it was bored out, has been so often described in the various daily journals that only a brief account need be given here. The tube is eight feet in diameter, arched all the way around with brick painted white. From the bottom of it to the surface of Broadway is twenty-one feet, and it is therefore below all pipes and sewers. After curving around the corner of Warren-street the tube is perfectly straight. On the bottom is a track about four feet wide. The car which runs upon this is about half as large as a streetcar, cushioned, lighted, ventilated, and elegant in all its appointments. The contrivance that bores out the tubes is a huge iron cylinder, sharp at the end penetrating the earth, and is forced along by hydraulic pressure. The dirt is then shoveled out. So far, the tubes now being complete 120 feet, or as far as the south side of Murray-street, the excavation has been through sand only, and not a difficult matter. Yesterday the gentlemanly engineer of the Company explained the whole construction of the tunnel, over and over again, to the visitors that kept coming and going.
Such, in brief, is a description of the various compartments of the mysterious underground Broadway tunnel, begun but a few months ago. The enterprise is controlled by the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company, who propose to run their tunnels in every direction eventually, and make rapid communication between distant parts of the City. They claim that their cars can run at the rate of one mile a minute with perfect safety by the pneumatic process.
The opening yesterday afternoon was a very pleasant occasion. It was intended specifically for dignitaries, legislatures, Aldermen, scientific men, and members of the Press, and scores of them were present. Mr. Beach himself was conspicuous, making his visitors explanations and entertaining them like princes. Judge Daly, members of the American Institute, City officials, and many prominent citizens were observed among those who came. In the "depot", or reception room, a first-class subterranean lunch was served continuously from 2 o'clock to 6 o'clock, and it was continuously appreciated. The "health" of the tunnel was not forgotten. At night fall the unique occasion was over, but the "Transit Company" had made a host of friends and supporters.
The tunnel is to be open to the public every day from the 1st of March. The tickets of admission will be twenty-five cents, the entire proceeds to go to the Union House for the Orphans of Soldiers and Sailors.
The Pneumatic Tunnel Under Broadway
Scientific American · March 5, 1870
We give this week illustrations of this remarkable work, which, with a brief description of the details of construction and mode of operation, will give the general reader a good understanding of the nature of this mode of transit. Having fully set forth the benefits to be derived from it in a previous article, we shall confine ourselves at present entirely to a description of the work and a brief history of the origin and progress of transit by means of air inclosed in tubes.
The engravings give an excellent idea of the various parts and appliances. The tunnel is eight feet in diameter in the clear. It is lined with masonry (brick-work) laid up in water cement. A plan of a small portion of it is shown in Fig. 1, which includes the present terminus and passenger station at the corner of Broadway and Warren street, and shows the position of machinery, etc. This will be at once understood upon inspection, and we therefore pass to the...
Mode of Excavation
This is shown in Fig. 2, which represents in section the tunneling machine or shield, designed by Mr. A. E. Beach, of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. The body of the shield is shown at A, and is simply a short tube of timberwork, backed by a heavy wrought iron ring, against which the hydraulic rams, D, act to advance the entire machine. The front part of the shield is a heavy chilled iron ring, B, brought to a cutting edge, and crossed on the interior by shelves, C, also sharpened. Bearing blocks, E, of timber, are placed against the masonry, as shown, on which the rams press when the shield is advanced. F is the pump from which the water is carried to the rams by the pipes G. H is a hood of thin sheet steel within which the masonry is built, in rings of 16 inches length, the bricks interlocked.
The operation of this machine is as follows: The pump is worked by one man, and the rams press with a force of 126 tons against the end of the masonry. This forces the cutting edge and the shelves into the earth to a distance corresponding to the length of stroke in hydraulic cylinders and the earth being removed the masonry is again advanced, and so on step by step.
Whenever it is desired to alter the course of the shield, it is done by turning cocks in the pipes which lead from the pumps to the rams, on that side which is not being advanced. The rams then acting upon the opposite side advance it, thus changing the course of the shield. In this way the machine may be guided with the utmost exactness.
The soil through which the tunnel is advancing is of a loose sandy character. Stones are, however, occasionally met with, and of course must be drilled and split out. The hydraulic rams were finished by E. Lyon, 470 Grand Street, New York. We shall refer to them again.
The method of testing the position at night is shown in Fig. 3. This is done by driving up from the center of the tunnel a tube in sections until it reaches the surface, by which the position of the shield is accurately determined. It is generally done at night because the street is then vacant.
A Way Station
... is shown in Fig. 4. It will be seen that these stations are not to be damp and dimly lighted cellars, but commodious, airy, and comfortable apartments, wherein passengers may await the arrival of a car with as little inconvenience as they could in the best steam railway stations, and without any of the annoyances that attend the waiting for street cars at street corners.
The Tunnel and Waiting Station
The portal of the tunnel, shown in Fig. 5, is a massive ornamental structure, of circular form, nine feet in diameter, its bed twenty-one and a half feet below the surface of Broadway. The mouth of the tunnel opens directly into a large underground apartment, one hundred and twenty feet in length, fitted up in good style, for the purposes of a waiting and reception station. This apartment is lighted from the pavement, and occupies the entire space under the Warren street sidewalk.
The Pneumatic Car
Fig. 6 is a sketch of the interior of the passenger car used in the present tunnel. It is of circular form, richly upholstered, and very comfortable, with seats for eighteen persons. Its interior hight is greater than the cars of the London underground railways. When the pneumatic tunnel is further extended, luxurious cars, 100 feet in length, will be used. The car is brilliantly illuminated by means of a single zircon light.
The Mode of Propulsion
...is one of the most simple things imaginable. Air is forced into the tunnel by a gigantic blowing engine made by P. H. & F. M. Roots, of Connersville, Ind., a section of which is shown in Fig. 7. [missing] This blower is actuated by a steam engine of 100-horse power, and is calculated to deliver when worked at maximum speed, a volume of 100,000 cubic feet of air per minute. A pressure of one fourth of one pound to the square inch would be an aggregate of three-fourths of a tun on the end of the car, far more than required for propulsion.
The blowing engine is positive in its action, pressing the air into the tunnel in the direction shown by the arrows on the ground plan, Fig. 1. When the air current is reversed a partial vacuum is produced in the tunnel, and the pressure of the atmosphere then propels the car in an opposite direction.
The Scope of the Work
The tunnel will when completed, extend from the Battery to the Harlem river.
The tunnel starts from the east end of the reception room, corner of Warren street and Broadway, and extends on a curve to the center of Broadway, thence in a straight line down to a point a little beyond Murray street, where the shield, or tunneling machine now rests. The excavations have been temporarily suspended, for the purpose of affording the press and public an opportunity to examine the works, and witness the operations of the machinery. Mr. Joseph Dixon is the superintendent of the works.
Sketch of the History of the System of Pneumatic Transit
In 1824, John Vallance took out a patent in England for a method of propelling carriages through tubes by atmospheric pressure, and in 1826 he had a car running on this plan. This attempt was succeeded by similar efforts by Messrs. Medhurst and Pinkus. The plan adopted by these gentlemen was the propulsion of the cars by means of a piston running in a slotted tube; an arm projecting through the slot, forming the point of attachment for the cars, and an endless band closing the slot both before and after the arm as shown in Figs. 8 and 9. [missing] The air was in this method exhausted from the tube in front of the piston. This propulsion of cars was successfully performed in this way, but the system is not at present in use.
Vallance's system was again put in operation in 1861, by T. W. Rammell, in London, on a small scale, for carrying letters and packages, where pneumatic tubes, 2 1/2 miles long, and 3 feet in width, have been operated with success for the past seven years.
In 1864 a large tunnel for passenger cars was erected at Sydenham, 1/4 of a mile long, and thousands of passengers were transported. This resulted in the incorporation of the Waterton and Whitehall Railway, which is to extend from Charing Cross under the Thames to the Southwestern Railway. It is not yet completed.
Opening of the Broadway Tunnel to the Public
The doors of the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company were thrown open to the public for the first time on the 26th, when an "Under Broadway Reception" was given, by special invitation to the State authorities, city officials, and members of the press. All the prominent personages of the city and State were present, and the inspection of the works gave the greatest satisfaction. The various daily newspapers have published long accounts of the event, which has produced quite a novel sensation in the metropolis.
The New York Herald says "it was virtually the opening day of the first underground railway in America."
The New York Times says: "Certainly the most novel, if not the most successful, enterprise that New York has seen for many a day is the pneumatic tunnel under Broadway. A myth, or a humbug, it has hitherto been called by everybody who has been excluded from its interior; but hereafter the incredulous public can have the opportunity of examining the undertaking and judging of its merits.
"Yesterday the tunnel was thrown open to the inspection of visitors for the first time and it must be said that every one of them came away surprised and gratified. Such as expected to find a dismal cavernous retreat under Broadway, opened their eyes at the elegant reception room, the light, airy tunnel, and the general appearance of taste and comfort in all the apartments; and those who entered to pick out some scientific flaw in the project, were silenced by the completeness of the machinery, the solidity of the work, and the safety of the running apparatus."
The Evening Mail says: "The problem of tunneling Broadway has been solved. There is no mistake about it. Even as we write, a comfortable passenger car is running smoothly and safely between Warren and Murray streets, demonstrating, beyond contradiction, that it is only a question of time and money to give us rapid and comfortable transportation from the Battery to Harlem river."
The company has temporarily suspended operations on the tunnel in order to give the public an opportunity to examine their works, which are now open for inspection. The entrance is at 260 Broadway, corner Warren St., directly opposite the City Hall. The ladies of the Union Home for the Orphans of Soldiers and Sailors, a most deserving charity, are in possession of the doors, and receive the proceeds of the admission fee, 25 cents.
First Subway 40 Years Ago
The New York Times · February 4, 1912
Started in Lower Broadway and Trains Were to Run by Air Pressure.
When the Degnon Contracting Company begins work on Section 2 of the Broadway Subway, for which the contract will probably be signed by the Public Service Commission this week, it will come across an interesting relic of the engineering enterprise of forty years ago, which has already performed a small part of the work for it. Underneath Broadway from Warren to Murray Street runs a section of tunnel eight feet in diameter and brick lined, with a smaller tunnel running up the surface and emerging in a grating just inside the grass limits of City Hall Park, north of Murray Street.
This was the beginning of the first subway ever constructed in New York City, and if tradition be correct somewhere in it has been immured for forty years one of the cars which is [sic] was designed to accommodate. It was constructed by the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company, the President of which was Alfred E. Beach. It received a franchise in 1868, and the object of the project was "to provide for the transmission of letters, packages, and merchandise in the cities of New York and Brooklyn and under the North and East Rivers by means of pneumatic tubes to be constructed beneath the surface of the streets and public places." The charter was amended in 1873 on a more ambitious scale, and the company was then permitted "to construct, maintain, and operate an underground railway for the transportation of passengers and property."
The stock of the company was fixed at $10,000,000, and its route from the Battery under Broadway to Madison Square, thence still under Broadway to Columbus Circle, with a branch under Madison Square and Madison Avenue to and udner the Harlem River. The 1873 charter stated that a two-track section from Bowling Green to Fourteenth Street must be finished in three years, and the rest five years thereafter.
Though New Yorkers never had the pleasure of being shot through underground space by blasts of wind, the work that was completed showed considerable engineering ability. The tunnel was driven under Broadway by hydraulic jacks two feet at a time, and the work was carried on so carefully that there was no obstruction of street traffic and passengers had no idea that they were being undermined all the time.
The New York Chamber of Commerce in a report on the tunnel in 1905 has this to say:
"Early in 1870 the tunnel was thrown open for inspection, and a car was run from one end to the other, the object being to convince the public that the plans were safe and practical. But all of the work done failed of successful issue. Engineers of prominence were divided in their opinion as to the possibility of building an underground road through narrow streets lined with heavy buildings. Even in the seventies the Beach plans were condemned because it was thought that the tube could not be constructed under the street in front of such a massive structure as the Astor House. Since the methods were not endorsed by engineers, financial interests were chafy about investing money in it. Many believed that, if built, the returns would be insufficient to pay operating expenses and interest on the invested capital."
"The capitalists and engineers of those days should not be too hastily condemned as short sighted. The needs of the people of our city for rapid transit increased greatly in the next thirty years; the population increased greatly; the city's wealth increased, and notable advances were made in the science of tunnel construction and of the movement of trains. A revolution was effected in the matter last named by the introduction of electric traction. We would have had no subway to this time if private enterprise had been felled upon."
What seems to have prevented the completion of the tunnel was litigation which reached a Court of Appeals decision in 1873, by which the franchised was upset on technical grounds. This litigation seems to have been instituted through fear of the effect of the tunnel operations on the stability of the Astor House. In the present subway contracts provision has been made not only for the present Astor House, but also for a forty-story building that some day or other may be put upon the site. It is provided that in burrowing under the Astor House the new subway shall have its foundations arranged in such a way that the foundations of a new skyscraper may be interwoven with them. Just as the foundation of the Times Building is adjusted to those of the present Subway, so will those of the successor to the old hotel, whenever it is put up, be interlaced with the foundations of the Broadway tube.
Broadway Tube Proposed in 1849
The New York Times · September 12, 1926
Alfred Ely Beach, Who Devised Shield Method of Subway Building, Sponsored The Project Then.
When Governor Smith of New York and Governor Moore of New Jersey shook hands across the boundary line between the states. one hundred feet below the surface of the Hudson River, on Aug. 21 last, in official celebration of completion of the Holland tunnel, they celebrated at the same time the anniversary (which really was ten days later) of the birth of Alfred Ely Beach, whose invention of the tunneling shield fifty-eight years before made possible the construction of the twin tubes, twenty-nine and a half feet in diameter and 9,000 feet long. These vehicular tubes are the largest in diameter that have thus far been driven, being more than three time the diameter of the original tube that penetrated the earth under Broadway in 1869.
As editor and half owner of The Scientific American, Mr. Beach proposed in his paper in 1849 a subway under Broadway, the cars to be drawn by horses. Something more than a decade later his attention was drawn to experiments being made in England in transporting parcels and mail in pneumatically propelled cars that ran on rails in pipes or tubes of wood laid on the surface of the ground: and, more particularly, to the opening of such tubes running under ground and connecting the London Postoffice with Charing Cross railway station. Lord Stanley, the British Postmaster General, had officiated at the opening of these tubes and had declared them to be a great success and time-saver. Several men had lain down in the cars and been whisked through the tubes along with the mail.
Editor Beach appreciated the advantages of this quick method of transport and decided to work for its adoption in the United States. He forthwith procured from the Legislature a charter good for fifty years, giving him the right to connect the General Postoffice at Broadway and Liberty Street with the substations by means of twin mail tubes four and a half feet in diameter. At Fourteenth Street the main tube was to have a branch under Fourth Avenue, and another tube under Eighth Avenue was afterward provided for.
Doubt of Method's Safety. When it came to digging up Broadway and removing the Belgian block pavement in order to lay the tubes, the city authorities intervened. There was a great hue and cry that the walls of the Astor House would crumble if any such attempt was made. But Beach was not to be deterred. Necessity being the mother of invention, he began experimenting to devise a way to drive his tubes under Broadway without interfering with traffic. Success crowned his efforts in 1868, when he found he could push through the earth by means of screw jacks, a barrel-like affair made up of wood staves through which the earth was removed as the "shield" penetrated the ground. He patented this the following year, and decided that, while he was about it, he would drive a tube of twice the diameter, or nine feet. and put the two four-and-one-half-foot tubes, within it.
What Editor Beach had in mind was a full-sized subway to carry passengers. He had demonstrated the feasibility of this idea by means of a car with an open-top and piston ends. which ran in a wooden tube six feet in diameter. Such a tube was constructed, suspended from the wall of the Fourteenth Street Armory during the American Institute Fair that was held in this building in 1867, and was shown in operation. The tube was 107 feet in length and the car was drawn through it by suction and pushed back again by the blast of air from an ordinary eight-blade air propeller ten feet in diameter, which was driven at the rate of 250 revolutions a minute by a fifteen-horsepower steam engine. Anyone who has experienced the blast of air from a modern airplane propeller can understand how, when the air is confined in a tube or wind tunnel, it could easily drive a car at high speed before it. This demonstrating tube and the car were constructed of veneer in six weeks' time. The car was on whees and ran on rails. There was also a smaller tube with an open top car that, as it passed below a letterbox, turned a sort of X-shaped wheel into which the letters had dropped, thereby dumping them into the car collecting them automatically and depositing them in the same manner in the postoffice. More than 170,000 people were given a ride In the passenger car, and Mr. Beach, for the second time, was awarded the Gold Medal of the American Institute.
With the small shield constructed of wood a four-and-one-half-foot tunnel had been run out under Broadway some fifteen feet. and had demonstrated that a tunnel could be driven in this manner without disturbing anything overhead, while the shield could be directed or steered around a curve through applying more pressure on the outside of the curve than on the inside by means of the screw jacks.
The next step was to build a shield of sufficient size to make the tunnel he desired to construct. Work was immediately started on such a shield, and it was finally put together and completed in a machine shop on Water Street. In the fall of 1968, this full-sized shield was set up in the cellar of 260 Broadway, at the south-west corner of Warren Street, and was started out on a curve beneath Broadway. The bottom of the shield was about twenty-one feet below the surface of the pavement. The shield worked on the same principle as did the small one, except that in place of hand screws hydraulic jacks were used to force the cutting ring forward through the ground.
The shield consisted of two iron rings connected by wood staves about three feet in length. The foremost ring was provided with a sharp cutting edge and transverse shelves across the front, to prevent the sand from caving inward. Set into the rear ring, which was made of heavy wrought iron, were eighteen hydraulic jacks, placed at equal intervals around the inside; and fastened to the outside of the ring was a metal hood that extended rearward over the wall of the completed tunnel.
The method of operating the shield was as follows: A large hand pump, placed within the shield, was used to force water into the jacks, thus gradually driving out their rams against the end of the tunnel already constructed and forcing the shield forward some sixteen inches. A total pressure of 126 tons was obtained in this simple manner. The thin metal hood, extending back two or three feet beyond the rear ring, was always over the completed tunnel end. As soon as the pressure had been relieved, the rams of the hydraulic jacks were pushed back, or home, and the sixteen-inch head space that had been gained was bricked up. At the same time, workmen dug out the earth at the front of the shield and carried it back through the shield and the completed tunnel.
Six months were required to drive the ninety degree curve out under Broadway and to line it with cast iron plates such as are used in tunnels today. The curve was finished in March, 1869, and the straight part of brick to the south side of Murray Street in time for the grand opening on Feb. 26, 1870.
The tube bad been completed without public knowledge, the earth having been removed at night. Several hundred thousand persons experienced the thrill of a ride at 25 cents apiece.
The proceeds were given to charity as there was no provisions in the charter covering the charging of fares. It was this technicality that finally defeated the four-track subway that was eventually authorized under Broadway.
Although Mr. Beach was not allowed to use steam locomotives, as was subsequently done in the London Underground, or any means of propulsion that would produce noxious gases, the Legislature passed a bill providing for an elevated railway on which coal-burning "dummy" engines were used for many years. The building of this elevated railway was really what blocked the subway project in the 1870s; but ten or fifteen years later, under his charter, Mr. Beach could have constructed an electrically operated subway such as that begun in 1904, had it not been for the technicality that there was no provision in the charter enabling him to charge a fare. The charter was still in force when the 1912 subway was built. Also, the original Beach car and shield that drove through the earth were found intact.
Plaque in City Hall Station to Mark First Subway Site
The New York Times · September 15th, 1932
A plaque to mark the location of the city's first subway and to commemorate the late Alfred Ely Beach, who built it, has been ordered by the New York Historical Society from Waldemar Rannus, sculptor, now living in Astoria. The plaque is to be placed in the City Hall station of the B. M. T. lines and will be finished in about three weeks, according to Mr. Rannus.
Mr. Beach was born Dec. 1, 1826, and died Jan. 1, 1896. He built the first subway in 1870, from 259 Broadway to Warren Street. Mr. Rannus, the sculptor, is a friend of Stanley Beach, grandson of the late Alfred Ely Beach. The sculptor was born in Estonia, has studied art here and abroad and has lived in this country for the last thirty years. Some of his works are on exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. The plaque will depict the late Mr. Beach and a picture of the car used on his subway.
New York's First Subway
The New York Times · February 15, 1940
The Metropolitan Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers is to unveil in the near future in the City Hall station of the B. M. T. a bronze tablet in honor of New York City's first subway and of its creator, Alfred Ely Beach, editor of The Scientific American. In 1870 Beach surreptitiously drove a short tunnel under Broadway from Warren to Murray Street with a shield of his own invention, carted away the dirt by night and finally startled his fellow-citizens by taking them for rides underground in a brightly lighted eight-foot car which had a seating capacity of twenty and which was alternately blown and sucked from one end of the line to the other. Though he had demonstrated the practicability of this, the first subway in the United States, we had to wait thirty-four years before the present Lexington Avenue line was opened. Beach had opposed the construction of the elevated railways that long disfigured the city. The panic of 1873 made it impossible to proceed with the underground line that the Legislature chartered his company to build from the Battery to Columbus Circle.
Beach was no idle dreamer but an eminently practical inventor. A generation ago we would have said of him that he was ahead of his time. Today we speak of "cultural lag," meaning that he foresaw real needs and tried to meet them, whereas his day and generation, like ours, lacked the social mechanism to keep pace with technological innovation.