History of Pneumatics

by Andy Joseph; Updated September 26, 2017

The technology of pneumatics involves the use of pressurized air or gas to move objects. Pneumatics became popular due to a need for certain industries to transport urgent items over a relatively short distance.


The origins of pneumatics can be traced to as far back as the first century, when ancient Greek mathematician Hero of Alexandria wrote about his inventions powered by steam or wind. However, none of his discussions revealed thoughts of using the devices for transporting objects.

German physicist Otto von Guericke (1602 to 1686) went a little further. He invented the vacuum pump, a device that drew out air or gas from whatever vessel it was attached to. He used the vacuum pump to demonstrate that he could use air pressure to separate pairs of copper enclosures called hemispheres.

Capsule Transportation

With the invention of the capsule in 1886, people now had a container to put items in to transport them from place to place. People in Victorian England were the first known to use capsule pipelines to transmit telegrams from one telegraph station to another.

Postal Systems

Scottish engineer William Murdoch (1754 to 1839) was the first to apply pneumatics to postal services, but there is little evidence that he went further than suggesting the transmission of letters and packages through pneumatic tubes. American merchant John Wanamaker (1838 to 1922) installed a pneumatic system in the United States Post Office when he was postmaster general and in department stores to transport money from one section to the other.

Public Transportation

Pneumatics was also applied to public transportation. A notable example is the efforts of American inventor Alfred Beach (1826 to 1896). In 1867, Beach demonstrated a pipe able to transport a handful of passengers, giving birth to the pneumatic subway line. However, the line only lasted for a few months, terminated after Beach was unable to gain permission to extend the distance of the subway.


Pneumatics is neither in wide use today, nor is it exciting curiosity. That can be credited to ever-advancing technology. However, its lasting mark is the tube terminals at bank drive-throughs.

About the Author

Based in the D.C. area, Andy Joseph works full-time as a data analyst and technical writer. He has been writing articles about technology, health, politics, music, culture and automobiles since 2007. His work has appeared in The Express, Congressional Report and Road & Track. He has a master's degree in journalism and technology management.