Scientific American's publishing offices were in New York City. Traffic in the city was becoming unbearable in the years immediately following the Civil War. The melee of horse-drawn carriages and trolleys mixed with pedestrian traffic made it difficult to get anywhere, especially at the morning and evening rush hours (sound familiar?). Beach was a strong proponent of a subway system for the city. He saw little future in talk of a steam-engine powered subway which would have all the attendant smoke and soot to contend with. But he was very enamored with an idea that had begun in London to use pneumatic-powered tubes to move everything from mail to people. Small tubes were being installed in stores and banks to move papers and money from one part of the building to another. Intermediate tubes (about three feet in diameter) were being explored as a way to move packages and small freight. Entrepreneurs in London had even proposed a pneumatic tube large enough to transport a subway car.
Beach picked up on this idea and tried to rally local officials to his cause. Unfortunately, in the late 1860's , New York City was essentially owned by Boss William Tweed and his Tammany Hall ring. Tweed received kickbacks from the horse-drawn trolley companies and a subway threatened that revenue stream. Beach thought he could work around Tammany Hall by asking for a charter from the state to build two parallel intermediate-sized tubes to move letters and packages. As this was no threat to Tweed, it was allowed to go through. But Beech had other plans than what he was willing to put forth in his request to the state government.
Unbeknownst to Tweed and his cronies, Beach planned from the beginning to build a demonstration subway using the pneumatic principle. If challenged, he planned to tell people that he found it cheaper for his package test purposes to build one eight-foot diameter tunnel than two four-foot diameter tunnels. Beach wanted as little visibility as possible for his project until it was complete. He thought that if he could win over the public with the demonstration of a working prototype subway, he could overcome the political resistance from Tammany Hall. He underestimated Tweed and the Machine.
The subway was opened for public demonstrations on Feb 28, 1870 and it caused an immediate sensation. People loved it - even if it didn't go anywhere. Trying to capitalize on that enthusiasm, Beach applied for a charter from the state to build a longer subway system. The resolution passed both houses but was vetoed by the governor - a Tammany Hall lackey. But Beach didn't give up. He was counting on public opinion and a change in his political fortunes to carry the day. In 1872, it looked like he was going to get his break. Tammany Hall had been exposed by the New York Times for its corruption and Boss Tweed was under indictment. The Governor had been swept out of office in November of 1872 as a Tammany crony and the new Governor was much more favorable to Beach's ideas. His charter granted, Beach formed The Beach Pneumatic Transit Company.
But when Beach tried to raise capital for the project, he ran into an entirely new opponent. John Jacob Astor III owned much of the real estate along Broadway and he didn't like the idea of a subway tunnel that might cause structural problems under any of his property. He stonewalled the project and got his friends to do the same. Beach was by this time exhausted and out of funds. He closed up his subway station and tunnel and abandoned the project.
Subways did not come to New York City until 1900. In 1912, a work crew digging a new tunnel broke through into an old tunnel they hadn't known was there. In it they found a perfectly intact subway car and a glorious underground station complete with water fountain. Beach's subway was once again back in the limelight. His pneumatic tunnel was mostly dug out for new construction but his efforts were recognized by a plaque that was placed in a local station.
Twice, publishers of the Scientific American had grand ideas and twice they had been thwarted from seeing their dreams realized. Both ideas were ahead of their times. Innovation demands viable technology, tenacity, and more than a little bit of good luck.