It may not be quite as fast as Elon Musk's plan for the Hyperloop, but back at the turn of the 20th century the moving sidewalk was The Future™!
I was doing some research on World's Fairs at the L.A. Library this past weekend when I found an absolutely gorgeous rare book from 1900. Paris Exposition Reproduced From The Official Photographs was published for an American audience and includes some incredibly beautiful (and large!) photos from the 1900 World's Fair in Paris. Some of my favorites include people using that strange Victorian Hyperloop known as a moving sidewalk. Top speed: 6 miles per hour.
This wasn't the first moving sidewalk that was open to the public. That distinction would go to the mysterious (and quite unreliable) moving sidewalk at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. But the two and a quarter mile long Paris moving sidewalk — what some would call the "wooden serpent" — would influence how many people thought about the future of urban transportation for generations to come.
The book certainly doesn't pull any punches when describing what was lacking at the Exposition. In fact, it's pretty openly disdainful of most things French. The authors of the book write that the French are kind of lazy and were unready for the Fair in time, despite having seven years to prepare for it. They note the construction work still happening in the photo above and contend that American workers can probably teach the French a thing or two about building stuff.
STATION ON THE MOVING SIDEWALK — This station is on the Quay d'Orsay, adjoining the Esplanade des Invalides, and on a level with the second story of the Italian Palace. It is, however, similar to all the other stations, and shows the manner in which passengers enter and leave the sidewalk, or "trottoir roulant," as it is called in the French idiom. Notwithstanding the fact that the French were at work on the grounds for seven years, there was a general condition of unreadiness prevailing at the date of the opening, and not until the period when the Fair was half over did this disappear. This photograph was taken more than a month after the opening ceremonies, but the carpenters are still at work on the platform, as will be observed. They do things with greater deliberation in Europe than we are accustomed to in America, and yet they do them not so well. This youngest scion of the nations can teach its elders many things that they would profit by learning. The Italian Palace occupies so prominent a position that it is constantly appearing in the numerous views that are presented, and always with some luster of added beauty or attractiveness. It is without exception the most uniformly and consistently beautiful building on the Exposition grounds, and one never grows weary of studying the harmony of its various features. On any other style of building the wealth of ornamentation would seem redundant, but the whole structure has been so planned and executed as to form a perfect union and blending of harmonious parts.
This photo in particular calls out the fantastic views from the vantage point of the elevated moving sidewalk. Yep, that's the Eiffel Tower (built for the 1889 World's Fair in Paris) in the upper left.
A MOVING SIDEWALK PANORAMA — As everyone is aware, the Exposition grounds occupy certain parks and esplanades in the very heart of the city, so that anyone who makes the circuit on the rolling sidewalk views not only the wonders of the Exposition, but likewise considerable portions of some of the most attractive localities in Paris. The whole of the Champ de Mars has been devoted to Exposition purposes, also the Esplanade des Invalides, the Trocadero Park, the space around the Eiffel Tower, and other similar localities; while intervening between these, or adjoining them, are numerous solidly built blocks of residences or business houses. These conditions add materially to the variety and interest of the scene. No city has a better location to insure the artistic perfection of a great world's exposition than Paris. The Seine supplies the indispensable feature of water in the most desirable form that could be imagined, while the numerous parks and esplanades that border both of its banks afford the space needed for the buildings and avenues; so that one enjoys all the pleasures of the Exposition without the fatigue or inconvenience of going out of the city. This arrangement is also a decided advantage to the local tradesmen and keepers of hotels and houses of entertainment, since they can have all the benefits of increased custom without the added expense of erecting new or special buildings for the occasion. But Paris does not seem to have availed herself of all her natural advantages, at least not to the extent that an American city would have done.
They really can't stop bashing Paris, can they?
The book described how the moving sidewalk ran — a kind of ouroboros or "wooden serpent with its tail in its mouth" that moved continuously throughout the day.
ANOTHER VIEW OF THE MOBILE SIDEWALK — On the south side of the Seine the Exposition buildings stand upon three sides of what we in America would call a square. Trapezium would be the right word, but square is the more popular. The longest side, measuring three-quarters of a mile and containing the Avenue of the Nations, is formed by the river. The next longest is formed by the Champ de Mars palaces, and the third and shortest by the palaces of the Invalides section. The fourth side, open to the city, is bounded by the Avenue de la Motte I'iequet. It is obvious that under ordinary circumstances a visitor intending to pass, say from the Invalides to the Champ de Mars must, without specially contrived means of communication, traverse a large block of streets, avenues, and boulevards. The rolling platform, trottoir roulant, is the special contrivance. It is not a detached structure like a railway train, arriving at and passing certain points at stated times. In the Moving Sidewalk there is no break. In engineers' language, it is an "endless floor" raised thirty feet above the level of the ground, ever and ever gliding along the four sides of the square—a wooden serpent with its tail in its mouth. It is about two and a quarter miles in length. There are ten entries to it and as many exits from it, distributed over the river face, along the Champ de Mars and the Invalides. It never stops for passengers; you step on or off as you do on or off a 'bus in motion, but with the important difference that the rolling platform is only two inches above the level of your shoe soles, and that its rate of motion is slower.
Standing at almost thirty feet tall, you got quite a view from the moving sidewalk. This perspective was both "novel and peculiar" as the authors of the book put it. It wasn't merely a new futuristic method of transportation made to go from point A to point B — it was fun!
ANOTHER VIEW OF THE MOBILE SIDEWALK — This view represents the movable sidewalk passing through a grove of trees, at a sufficient height to enable the visitor to look down on the roofs of some of the lower buildings. The sensation of moving through the branches of trees while standing upon an apparently stationary platform of boards, is both novel and peculiar, and the enjoyment is so acute that many visitors take special trips on the rolling sidewalk for the pleasure it affords. The outer platform, as represented in the photograph, is stationary, the one next to it moves at the rate of about two and one-half miles per hour, while the one at the top moves at twice this rate of speed. This arrangement, together with the balancing posts stationed conveniently along the margins of the platforms, enables visitors to step from one to the other with the utmost ease and safety, and at the same time to regulate their progress according to their wishes. This is one of the most satisfying conveniences of the Exposition grounds, and it is liberally patronized accordingly. The trip at night, when all the buildings and the grounds are brilliantly lighted with myriads of colored electric points, is peculiarly enjoyable, and thousands of gay Parisians, as well as strangers from all quarters of the globe, gladly avail themselves of the opportunity to glide thus smoothly around the Exposition's area.
You can watch Edison's film of the moving sidewalk below.