A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from November 15, 2009
Rocketeer (postal worker with pneumatic tube)

Mail was delivered throughout New York City by a series of pneumatic tubes, from the years 1897 until 1953. The postal workers sending and receiving such mail were dubbed “rocketeers,” since the mail would shoot through the tube like a rocket. The term “rocketeer” is of historical interest today.

Wikipedia: Pneumatic tube
Pneumatic tubes (or capsule pipelines; Lamson tubes) are systems in which cylindrical containers are propelled through a network of tubes by compressed air or by vacuum. They are used for transporting solid objects, as opposed to more generic pipelines, which transport gases or fluids.

Pneumatic tube networks gained great prominence in the late 19th and early 20th century for businesses or administrations that needed to transport small but urgent packages (such as mail or money) over relatively short distances (within a building, or, at most, within a city). Some of these systems grew to great complexity, but they were eventually superseded by more modern methods of communication and courier transport, and are now much rarer than before.

A small number of pneumatic transportation systems were also built for larger cargo, to compete with more standard train and subway systems. However, these never really took off as practical systems.
For postal service
Pneumatic post or pneumatic mail is a system to deliver letters through pressurized air tubes. It was invented by the Scottish engineer William Murdoch in the 1800s and was later developed by the London Pneumatic Dispatch Company. Pneumatic post systems were used in several large cities starting in the second half of the 19th century (including an 1866 London system powerful enough to transport humans), but were largely abandoned during the 20th century.
Historical use
1853: linking the London Stock Exchange to the city’s main telegraph station (a distance of 220 yards)
1865: in Berlin (until 1976), the Rohrpost, a system 400 kilometers in total length at its peak in 1940
1866: in Paris (until 1984, 467 kilometers in total length from 1934)
1875: in Vienna (until 1956)
1887: in Prague (until 2002 due to flooding), the Prague pneumatic post
1897: in New York City (until 1953)

Google Books
1949, Science Digest, pg. 59:
That day the rockets were the only means of delivering letters anywhere in New York City, and the rocketeers worked around the clock.

Underground Mailroad
A curator gives a history of New York City’s pneumatic mail system that linked the city’s post offices.

By James Vescovi | Jun 15, 1994
An elaborate system of subterranean tubing kept the mail moving beneath Manhattan for 56 years

Few subjects fascinate Joe Cohen, 65, curator of the Museum of Postal History of the New York Post Office, more than the 27-mile pneumatic mail system that linked the city’s post offices between 1897 and 1953. The system comprised tubes—eight inches in diameter and located 4 to 12 feet underground—that carried steel cylinders holding 500 letters each. Powered solely by air pressure, the 2-foot-long, 21-pound cylinders shot through the tubes at 30 miles per hour. It was a very efficient system, says Cohen.

Letters going from the General Post Office, on West 33rd Street, to the one in Manhattanville, on West 125th Street, took 20 minutes for the 5-mile trip. They were placed into a cylinder labeled “Manhattanville” and dropped into a tube by a postal employee, or “rocketeer.”

The Pneumatic Mail Tubes:
New York’s Hidden Highway And Its Development
An Historical Perspective
It was not a Pipe Dream!

By Robert A. Cohen
Copyright August 1999
Figure 7. New York Postal Workers, also known as the “Rocketeers” are shown sending the mail on its way.

Google Books
The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril
By Paul Malmont
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
Pg. 208:
“What’s a rocketeer?”

“The post office guys that operate everything coming and going through the pneumatic tubes are called rocketeers. Okay, all the post offices in the city are connected by pneumatic tubes, thirty miles of ‘em or more, with cylinders about this long”—he held out his hands to indicate a span of about two feet—“that go whizzing through them all day and all night. My rocketter wrote down his question and put it in the tube at the Church Street office and it shot up to TImes Square. Then it went to the Ansonia station, then on and on to the Planetarium office, the Cathedral office, and the Morningside office...”

New York (NY) Times
Take That, E-Mail

Published: November 13, 2009
Q. I have a brochure about the New York City post office from the early 20th century that refers to some postal employees as “rocketeers.” Was this some crazy experiment in rocket mail?
A. No such luck. Rocketeers — at one point there were 136 of them in New York City — were the workers who sent and received postal mail by pneumatic tube, below. From 1898 to 1953, the post office used up to 27 miles of the tubes to speed the mail in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx. The metal cylinders, eight inches wide and 24 inches long, traveled up to 30 miles an hour by air pressure through greased tubes.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityWorkers/People • (0) Comments • Sunday, November 15, 2009 • Permalink