Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Paris Wide Web


Did you know that the Web was invented in Paris in 1866?! Well, actually that's the date the postal service started building a network of vacuum tubes underneath Paris (in the sewers) where capsules, containing up to 35 five telegrams, could travel from one end of the city to the other. In 1957 the network was 400 km (250 miles) long and each capsule would travel at a speed of 700 meters (almost 1/2 a mile) per minute. It only stopped running in 1984 and at the risk of showing my age, I can still remember receiving a "Pneu" (the name given to these letters) in 1980 to warn me that my plane had been rescheduled... Here is one of the nodes in the network - I took it yesterday in the Poste du Louvre. More about this here, here and here (French).

53 comments:

  1. I remember these very well. You and I must be antiques!
    I also remember seeing the "pneus" in a Truffaut movie. Which one is an other question. But that system was definitely the web's ancestor!

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  2. Wow! Great info Eric. I have been learning so much from your site. I need to return to Paris soon!

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  3. I'm astonished how long they were running. I bet Paris had hydraulic power, like London did, at the turn of the century? I love the fact that the old ducts are now being used for modern fibre optic networks.

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  4. Awesome. I probably know more about French history than any of my friends. That's so very cool (the vaccuum tube postal service).

    By the way Eric dear, your profile gives away your approximate age a lot better than your memories of the Pneu! 1980...wow. I wasn't even alive then! (Hopefully that didn't offend you. Tongue-in-cheek isn't always easy to communicate in type!)

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  5. If I remember well I've heard «J'ai reçu un tube» In some french movies, was it the argot for your pneu?

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  6. LOVE this! I just got done watching the 1968 Truffaut film "Baisers Voles" and it has a great scene following a letter through the subterranean system. Too bad the city doesn;t use it any more.

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  7. In the US, the same technology is still in use at Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) to carry blood samples to the lab. Fast and reliable..

    JM-

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  8. These were used in NYC also, but I don't know when they stopped, you still see the boxes for the pneumatic tubes in older office buildings. I wish they were still around. Yes, I remember the Truffaut use of this device too, that was such a great era for French film, we used to watch them all over and over when I was in school (I'm dating myself as well...)
    L

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  9. That reminds me of the things at the bank. I love the noise they make!

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  11. In one of my college classes (in 1976) we read about the idea of using the Paris network of vacuum tubes to house coaxial cable for a city wide network. I don't remember if the concept was theoretical of if it was implemented. Amazing the a post would trigger a memory from 20 years in the past.

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  12. This is so fascinating. It sounds like something out of Jules Verne—speaking of whom, this extensive pneumatic system could explain in some small connection Jules Vernes' choice of a city-wide power supply in his novel, "Paris in the Twentieth Century," which was: compressed air!

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  13. I love it!!! I'd never thought in a million years I'd see a device like that on a Paris blog, but that's what we like about you, Eric, you keep us on our toes!

    (By the way, I remember the "pneus" too. )

    Soosha: I can't speak for Eric, of course, but I don't think he'll be offended by your saying that you weren't born yet in 1980! :)

    You're lucky in a way, because you missed out on all the terrible fashion style of the 70's and all that disco! ;-)

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  14. I just recently stumbled across the daily photo blogs. Your site is so interesting and fun to read. What a terrific thing you've started with your daily photos.

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  15. Now that's unique Eric. I looked at the links and the map of the system looks like today's metro map. How cool. I've seen this thing at La Poste, but had no idea what it was.

    As for Tomate's comment, how could anyone missing the 70's live an enriching and fulfilling life?

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  16. Good morning, Michael! As far as I'm concerned, the best of the 70's can be purchased and/or downladed in MP3 form. Oh, and there was the end of the vietnam war, too, which in the US meant the end of the draft. But what else? Honestly, I can't remember anything positive about this decade. For some reason, all I remember is a black cloud. Surely there was something, but what?

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  17. For some reason, all I remember is a black cloud. Surely there was something, but what?

    Bob Marley

    Ujima

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  18. J'avoue que j'ignorais, très instructif ! cela me fait penser aux "Today's Highlights" de "Answer.com" du 3 avril, il y était écrit : "On this date in 1860, the Pony Express began service between St. Joseph, MO., and Sacramento, CA. It took riders about eight days to travel some 2,000 miles (3,200 km). They changed horses every 10-15 miles (16-24 km), and it took nearly 20 riders to make the whole trip. With the advent of telegrams in 1861, the pony express was phased out."
    Incredible isn't it?
    Que de chemin parcouru depuis !
    Et j'ai aussi bien aimé la citation de Scott Adams :
    "I get mail; therefore I am."
    C'est tellement vrai...

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  19. I remember reading an autobiography of someone who lived in Paris in the 1920's and I think they referred to the letters they received by 'pneu' as 'petite bleus' because they were written on blue paper. C'est vrai?

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  20. Oui Madame Tut, c'est vrai! Not only was it blue but also very light, for obvious reasons.

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  21. Ah come on Tomate:
    - The Partridge Family
    - Bewitched
    - Brady Bunch
    - Silk shirts
    - Bell bottoms
    - Oil crisis (think of all the people you met waiting in line)
    - Give me some time I'll think of more (if I could just conjur up a flashback now...)

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  22. I remember that, big companies used that system between buildings, but all over the city? That is new too me:)

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  23. Astonishing and very interesting, I didn't know it had been real. Very poetic, it's really a pity that it doesn't exist any more.

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  24. This is very cool, Eric, and I had no clue of what it was when I first saw that photo. I do remember the "pneus." My godmother was a library for the post office (she worked somewhere in Paris, not too far from Nation, I think), and I think there was a pneumatique network in her building. I have also seen them in many older office buildings in the U.S.A. - mostly as a means of moving paper internally.

    Hehe, we now have e-mail!

    Michael - I agree with Tomate that the 1970's have no redeeming value, except for the emergence of the Punk movement towards its tail end (oh yes, and Bruce Springsteen became very famous during that decade.)

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  25. eric- don't forget the minitel- also an important run-up to the internet.

    i've always wondered why the minitel was never expanded and marketed on a more global scale?

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  26. It's like that movie "Brazil" didn't they have something like that in it...? Great shot Eric!
    If you ever pass by the rue st. merri (4th) you know where the pool, meets the cafe and the art gallery..you think you can snap a photo for me...?

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  27. According to the French, they invented Everything, lol. BUt his is Very interesting!!

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  28. ms. miami> Minitel has one major restriction: it connects to a single server and service. The concept was so successful then that the French never pushed the idea further.

    Note that the Minitel concept has been invented by British Telecom. It didn't take off because BT chose to use the TV screen rather than a dedicated device (try to browse the yellow pages while gran'ma is watching her favorite series... :)

    JM-

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  29. The only reason why the Minitel was successful in France was not because it was technically more advanced but because of the business model which was similar to the present cellular phone model today: "I give you the terminal for free and you pay for the airtime in exchange. And whenever you connect to an online service the service provider will receive a share of what you pay to me ".

    When the French tried to sell their system abroad, the foreign telecom companies only saw the technical aspect which was not very different from what they had locally invented (Captain in Japan, Prestel in the UK, Bildenshirmtext in Germany, etc.).

    In the end only the Bank of Scotland and the Luxemburg – if I remember well – showed an interest in it. (I still have one in a cabinet somewhere I think…)

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  30. Michael, I hear you had some really cool bellbottoms back in the day? What about the Monkees? And the Bee Gees and all of the Saturday Night Fever? I was living in Frankfurt and 2 of my German friends tried to teach me the Hustle. Sad to say, I had 2 left feet (I still do). I can remember stringing love beads, too. Does anyone else remember those?

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  31. Well if I had been in Paris I would have gotten one also then. Great shot.


    http://kansascitydailyphoto.blogspot.com/

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  32. I remember the pneu from visits way back when. I have much fonder memories of the 1970s - remember that a lot of the great social changes in the "1960s" actually occurred more from 1968 to the first half of the 1970s or so. I remember as a schoolgirl looking with horror at the future the Économie domestique (Home Ec) teacher had plotted out for us as Stepford Wives and mums... Fine if that is how you wanted to live of course, but I wanted to be an artist and have a little flat in the city, and travel. Still do!

    Thinking of thread ideas - this would be long, and perhaps a bit tedious all at once, but perhaps doing a theme in all 20 arrondissements? It would have to be broken up somehow, sinon ce serait un carcan.

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  33. This is very cool. I just love the things I learn on your blog, Eric. Sorry , Michael, but I have to agree with Tomate. What an utter disappointment after the 60's. Like a bad trip, man. :-)

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  34. Great shot & great info Eric. Well done.

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  35. Bewitched is from the 70's? Really? I could have sworn that show came straight out of the 50's (especially the black & white version)... or maybe the early 60's, pre-Woodstock era, of course. Live and learn :)

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  36. LOL about the 70's...I just have to defend it now that the, what do we call it...00's are so bland.

    Maybe you're right Tomate, but I was only watching re-runs of Bewitched in the 70's. I'm such a babe...in the woods. ;-)

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  37. Hi everyone, I am sorry I wanted to reply to everyone but I don't have the time tonight.

    But thanks for all your comments it'as always a pleasure to read what other countries do - especially when it comes to technologie.

    On the whole, besides the antiques side of this pneumatic system I am like Marieta: glad this is 2006 and that we have email...

    Now regarding the Disco years I must, for once, totally disagree with Tomate - and some others -. There is nothing like a good Gloria Gaynor song to cheer up a crowd! And Frankly Tomate wouldn't you fall for a guy dressed like this? ;))

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  38. Oh, I don't know Michael. Maybe we'll have a repeat of the 60's when people get tired of Irak ... I guess the big difference, I think, and why people haven't reacted to the same scale is because nobody gets drafted anymore so it's happening to "somebody else"...

    (By the way, Eric, hope you don't mind us hanging out and chatting out-of-context on your blog ... It's the next best thing we can find to sitting outside a Parisian brasserie and watch the world go by right now...and WITHOUT the smoke, I might add! ;D )

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  39. Frankly Tomate wouldn't you fall for a guy dressed like this? ;))

    Ewww! No way! Er, maybe without the clothes...

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  40. Some say if you can remember the 70's that you didn't really live through them. The best thing about the 70's is that I was 30 years younger!!!
    Really interesting info, Eric. The map of the pneu system really looks like a spider web.

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  41. I'm too young to remember this amazing device.
    We can also point out that the french telecom company put into service the minitel (another ancester of the web).
    What will be next? Sunglasses connected to the web?

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  42. Hey Eric, how about a photo of a Minitel?

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  43. There is the same system for the drive-through lanes at my bank in the United States. And I remember something similar when I was a very young child in England in a rather old-fashioned department store. The salesperson wrote up the receipt by hand and put it, together with the money my mother or father paid, in a brass cylinder; then she (it was usually a woman except in the men's department) attached the cylinder to a sort of overhead railway network, pulled a handle, and the tube went skittering along the rails, whizzing round corners, until it reached the cashier, who sat way up high near the ceiling in a very important dark wood kiosk. I knew she was a goddess and the most important person in the shop because she received all the cylinders, entered everything by hand in a ledger, and sent the receipt and change back. It was so exciting to wait for ours. I'd watch her attach a tube and pull the handle. Was it ours? No, off it went to another counter. Then ours would arrive with a clatter, and it was always the right one -- yet more proof she was superhuman. I was about five when the store went modern and got ordinary tills. Shopping was not the same after that.

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  44. Great story Passante. I can remember the excitement of going to the drive thru bank with my mom and getting to put the item in the tube, close it, push the button, and push send. I always had to say, "goodbye" to the tube and "thank you for coming back" when it came back...

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