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Post Offices of Europe 18th – 21st Century

A Comparative History


Muriel Le Roux and Sébastien Richez

The cursus publicus, established by the Roman Empire to connect all its conquered territories, may be considered to be the ancestor of all modern post offices. Therefore, mail service networks are part of an organization, dating from Antiquity, which is common to the entire European community.
From the 18th century onwards, the French mail service network may be divided into three successive phases. First, the consolidation of the transportation system that was being set up. Second, the development of the system’s ability to deal with increasing traffic (through broader human resources). Thirdly, the diversification of its operations and the development of its technical modernisation.
What was the situation in other European countries? Are there similarities and differences in how their networks were set up and organized? Finally, how did European Post Offices cooperate with each other in spite of their differences?
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Pneumatic Post Networks in Europe: Élisa Le Briand



After 1850, many European countries saw rapid development of their networks for dispatching pneumatic post. This type of mail allowed letters, parcels, and cards (depending on the city) to be sent in tubes where they were propelled by the driving force of air.1 In this paper, we will present aspects of this little known and now completely forgotten means of communication that was used nonetheless by several European administrations for more than a century.

Interest in harnessing different atmospheric energies for man’s use has been shown from the prehistoric period to the Middle Ages by the creation of different empirical procedures such as nautical sails, windmills, organ pipes that use compressed air, mechanical whistles, and different kinds of pumps. There has been persistent interest throughout the history of mankind, particularly at the beginning of the 19th century in the western scientific and technical world, evinced by the multiplicity of projects aimed at moving objects, like parcels or mail, through tubes, by means of the power of compressed air (pressure) or “rarified” air (vacuum). The interest at the beginning of the 19th century in using compressed air and voids as a dynamic force was guided in part by the work and experiments of Antoine Andraud, a Frenchman, who was the “apostle” of compressed air: Andraud believed that “the time would come when municipal authorities would set up vast reservoirs of compressed air in their cities, for the use of the local population, even for...

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