The Mail Chute

Mail Chute.jpg

Slower than pressing send -- but more fun.

By Rob Madeo

When they put up buildings these days, the infrastructure for carrying data is built right in. Today's pipelines are copper wire and fiber optic cable, but in the past, the conduits for moving information were... well, actual conduits.

When 90 State Street was constructed it was equipped with a Cutler Mail Chute system. In 1929, this was the height of modernity. Instead of carrying your mail downstairs, you could just drop it in the slot and it went racing to the first floor.

Imagine the time it saved!

You could type a letter -- making a copy with carbon paper, of course -- and just step outside your office to send it on its way. Then you'd retire to your desk and perhaps smoke a cigarette.

Local mail would be delivered overnight; letters to other cities were packed on a train and barrelled off to Chicago, Philadelphia, or even California.

How quaint.

mail chute 2.jpg

Now we get impatient if something won't download fast enough or our email message isn't answered in an hour. No cell service? Unbelievably frustrating. Look how aggravated people get when Twitter's on the fritz.

I decided to test the mail chute and send a letter from the 12th floor of 90 State Street to my house in Bethlehem. Seconds later it was in the box in the lobby waiting for the mailman. Lo and behold, the very next day it appeared in the box by the driveway.

The mail chute is just one of the things I love about my building. On the lower level there's a barbershop with tile floors, and on the corner you can belly up to the bar for a drink. There's a vast bank lobby downstairs, once the cathedral of cash, now vacant. It's easy to imagine how the offices above echoed with the clackety clack of typewriters and gurgling water coolers.

We have a different relationship with time today. Instead of measuring things in days, we parse it by moments, instants, nano seconds. It might be nice to live in in a time when there were no bits or bytes, when we weren't connected all the time, and the mail moved by gravity.


Rob can be found at lunchtime in downtown Albany huddled near a wi-fi hotspot.

Comments

I remember going to that bank at 90 State Street when I was a kid, with my grandmother. What a beautiful building. They just don't make 'em like that anymore.

I work at 112 and we have one of those in our building too! Someone saw me putting mail in it when I first started working there (on the 10th floor) and warned me not to use it! I think there's a lot of lost mail stuck in that old thing. But I love it and all of these old office buildings downtown. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Some buildings constructed in more modern times have mail chutes for their occupants' postal needs. For example, One Commerce Plaza at 99 Washington Avenue was built in 1971 and has mail chutes. These ones, however, are rather plain-looking and do not benefit from the elaborate decoration of the Cutler model.

And yes, there is a certain element of trust involved when one uses a mail chute.

Oh man! I interned in high school in a building that had one of these. At mail time we'd all go on lower floors and time its fall :D

There's one at the VA in Albany too. When I was a kid visiting my dad (a doctor there) I always wanted to put in a postcard and see if I could beat it to the first floor to watch it. Needless to say the postcards always won the race.

I remember when I was a kid I would see the mail chute at the VA Hospital in Albany.
I thought it was really cool, especially with the glass to see other stuff drop down.

When I first saw this pic, I thought "Hey! that looks like the mail chute at 90 State!". I used to work on the fourth floor, and used to use that mail chute all the time. Other people didn't trust the chute, and would walk downstairs to the post office box, but I've never had a problem with it. Now I pay all my bills online, leaving me with very little paper mail to send, but I think if I still worked at 90 State, I'd find an excuse to use the mail chute.

There's an apartment building in Pine Hills supposedly built as a school originally that has lovely mail chutes. Now painted shut, of course.

Oh man, I used to work in 90 state, and that was my favorite feature of the building! Or one of my favorites... another favorite was being separated from those troublesome users who needed files restored and whatnot... all those (6+) years ago... :)

I too worked at 90 State until very recently. The building owners keep it in pretty decent shape, thankfully. It's a beautiful specimen representing the pinnacle of both functionality and beauty in building construction (at least in Albany). My girlfriend and I still get excited when we stop in for me to get a haircut, grab a bite at Maurice's or a pint at Savannah's (now "The Dublin Underground").

The excitement is mostly at the gorgeous architecture and historic nature of the building, but also at the nearly-as-exciting mail chute. (Note: I never had a problem with my mail not getting delivered out of the chute, guess the mail gnomes like me).

Thanks for the fun article, though I really do like the bits and bytes of our culture. I guess I wish that we could strike a balance between the convenience of today's modernity and yesterday's thoughtfulness and class.


Does anyone remember the department stores with the pneumatic message tubes? I remember my mom putting something on her store credit, the clerk writing it up, putting the slip in the tube and watching it flutter away someplace only to come back minutes(!) later charged to her account.

I live a bit further down State Street, and my building has working mail chutes too...I love them! We've also got our original (and quite temperamental) elevator from 1923, with a gate and doors that open separately. It has character and I love to use it, but only when I'm empty-handed.

A building I worked in on the GE campus in Schenectady was built in the 1800 has these in it. They are not at all usable for mail, most have lan lines in them. The building isn't quite as pretty as 90 State but it is very interesting. Each floor has large vault safes like those you can see in an old bank with huge dials and handles. It is truly interesting to see old architect and technology.

I am the person that fixed and mantain the mailchutes for Cutler and also for other manufacturers for over 30 years.
I serviced and repair mailchutes from florida to Canada, from Boston to San Francisco.
I still do, I am in Hopewell Junction, NY and I am the only one that knows and have original parts to keep the mailchutes in good shape.
If you want to know about them or if you need assistance mantaining or fixing them, call me. 845-222-6055

Are you aware that John Goold Cutler, the gentleman who held the patent on the mail cute, is the grandson of the internationally known carriage and sled manufacturer, James Goold, who employed hundreds of workers in Albany during the 1800s at the Goold Carriage Factory?

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