Worth to know about the ELTE University Library. The pneumatic mail

Czuczor-Fogarasi (1862–1874) has not heard of this conception yet. [Name of the dictionary of the hungarian language in 1862–1874.] The Pallas (1893–1897) [another dictionary] writes about it as an important part of the mail history, mentioning the invention’s path from London to Paris, Berlin and New York. As for its use in Budapest: it will not happen as long as the costs are this high, and the diameter of the tube so small, thus not being profitable enough. The Pallas adds that Budapest wants to follow the French example of a centrally controlled post service.

The Lexicon of Révai [The Great Lexicon of Révai is a general lexicon in Hungarian.] (1911–1926) has a full entry with illustrations and a detailed general engineering description. It also has a short run-down of the invention’s history: the concept was already discussed in 1667 by Denis Papin and London had a railway working with pneumatic power, nonetheless the mail sending via pneumatics came true only in the last couple of years.

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 19th century and was later developed by the London Pneumatic Despatch Company. (From Wikipedia.com)

The invention became extremely popular quickly. The first libraries that used it were the Library of the Hungarian Government (the pneumatic mail worked here for a long time: 1902–2013), the metropolitan libraries (nowadays called Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library) had it since 1914 and the University Library joined them a bit later too. The cause of this lateness was the economical problems and World War I. Sadly we know very little about the pneumatic mail in our library. Although after its construction around 1940 the average time for searching books reduced to 3-5,5 minutes instead of the former 20-25 minutes. It also helped that the storage levels received a telephone network during their modernization. The pneumatic mail worked until 1959, the tubes’ switch-panels can be still found on the first floor and the storage. By the 1940s the University Library became the fastest and most modern in terms of service and technology in the country. In 1944 the library was looking for staff members versed in working the lift and the pneumatic mail. The tube system which connected the deposit station to the storage floors and the office rooms was made by Gyula Roth (30. 12. 1899. – 23. 08. 1985.) and his company, ROTOR.

Roth was also the designer of the famous „Mátrai-lift” (we have a separate article about this). He fought on the Italian front in World War I, got injured and got discharged as a university student. He received his mechanical engineer diploma on the 1st of February 1922 in Brno. He joined the Wertheim firm as head engineer and left in 1933 to found his own company by the name ROTOR Lift and Machine Factory (1934). His company caused uproar among its rivals and their products were considered expensive: according to a period newspaper a ROTOR drive costed the same as a mid-range car in 1945.

In 1935 ROTOR got permission to build a lift and a pneumatic post for the library. The Hungarian government accepts the pneumatic post law in 1936 and the University Library’s modernization began:

  • Permission for remodelling, expansion of the electronics (1935)
  • Re-examination of the lift (1936)
  • Building of goods lift /Wertheim (1936)
  • Building of pneumatic post /ROTOR (1936)
  • Building of book lift /Wertheim (1936)
  • Additional works with the lift /Wertheim (1938-39)
  • Upkeeping of the pneumatic post (1940)
  • other upkeepings (1942-45)

This is all we know of, the Lift Museum guarding the Roth bequest closed down, the remaining documents allegedly ended up in the Hungarian Museum of Science, Technology and Transport.

Fortunately Roth and his company both survived the war. The pneumatic post survived too. We are not sure for how long, but according to the social sciences library of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, its head managed to see the pneumatic tube system in person in Budapest, around 1958.

ROTOR was deprivatised in 1949, we do not know yet if Gyula Roth remained at the company after this. He worked as a lift specialist in the 1960s. There are still many documents to be examined about Roth and his firm, so their story is far from over.

Based on Edit Kazimír's article


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