Rufus Gilbert

History, Transportation, Urban Design

6sqft has marveled at the 1951 proposal by Goodyear Tires for a giant conveyor belt to carry people between Times Square and Grand Central and Alfred Ely Beach’s underground pneumatic tube system. The New York Public Library’s Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) fills in the blanks on an early idea for an elevated rail system that was ahead of its time. In 1870, Appleton’s Journal of Literature, Science and Art introduced an article with a lament about the state of New York City public transportation that sounds uncannily familiar even in the 21st century: “the present means of travel are not only inadequate in extent, but are far too slow and cumbersome.” The anonymous author then tells of the futuristic vision of one Rufus Henry Gilbert, a New York-born surgeon, Civil War veteran and inventor.

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