Lamson Corporation, Syracuse, NY, installed a pneumatic-tube mail-delivery system in the Original Headquarters Building (OHB) during its construction. The system had more than 30 miles of 4‑inch-diameter steel tubing. At that time, this system was one of the world’s largest.
The original system had about 150 receiving/dispatching stations throughout OHB. Shown here is one of the many vacuum-driven carriers that sped along the system, moving mail from one station to another. The system operated from 1962 until 1989.
36.5 cm x 9.0 cm
(L x Diameter)
The Debrief: Behind the Artifact - Pneumatic Tubes
Did you ever wonder what the CIA did to send messages before email?
Well we used tubes like this in a Pneumatic tube system that sent messages throughout our headquarters building. When CIA moved to our headquarters at Langley, the plans consisted of a Pneumatic tube system.
On average, our system sent over 40,000 messages a week and over 2 million a year. The system itself consisted of tubing that was 4 inches and over 25 miles long. Four routing stations managed our traffic and on average, our messages would reach their destination in under a minute.
The Agency’s tube system was 4 different systems that were differentiated by color, there was green, amber, red, and metal. The system was a dial-in system, so Agency officers were given directories so that they knew where these were going to end up.
Basically what you would do is use the rings, it was a 3 ring system. The top 2 rings identified the station and the bottom ring identified the station number. So if you wanted to go to F, R, 6, you would line all of the numbers up here. The system included provisions for misdirected or damaged tubes, but the rate of this was very low, less than 1% did not reach their destination.
The CIA’s pneumatic tube system was put in place in 1963 and decommissioned in 1989.
CIA’s tube system was unique in size and the fact that it handled classified material, but pneumatic tube systems were hardly cutting edge.
I can say though that ours was one of the largest internal systems in the world at the time.