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Paris tube message system ran to 1984

Pneumatic system delivered 10 million messages a year in its heyday, until fax took over

INSTANT messaging may be a modern idea but until 1984, Paris had its own version that used 467km of pneumatic tubes to carry paper messages between post offices in half an hour.

Driven by compressed air, the “pneumatic post” was invented by a Scot, William Murdoch, and first set up in London in 1853. Paris started in 1866. One of the largest networks, Paris’ survived until faxes took over in 1984.

The underground tubes needed several compressed air stations around the city, powered at first by steam and from 1927 by electricity.

They now appear only in older literature, such as Maurice Leblanc’s stories of “gentleman thief ” Arsène Lupin, which has mentions of the hero receiving “a little blue”. This was the name for the messages as they were written on blue-grey cards.

Messages were sent to the recipient’s nearest post office, then the postman (facteur tubiste) would deliver it on foot, bike or later moped.

Delivery could be done in less than half an hour and they allowed long messages at a fixed tariff.

In 1934, the system covered 130 post offices with around 10 million messages a year.

Their reputation for fast delivery of news meant many newspapers were named Le Petit Bleu, with survivors including Le Petit Bleu in both Lot-et-Garonne and in Côtes d’Armor.

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