I’m not sure exactly when the first New York City fire hydrant was wrenched open so neighborhood kids could play in the cool rush of water on a hot summer day.
But this very New York way to chase away the heat may have caught on and been officially sanctioned in the late teens, when John Hylan was mayor (below, in 1921, in a NYC Municipal Archives photo).
“The mayor is particularly good to children,” the Queens borough president was quoted saying in a New York Times article from 1925.
“It was his great heart that ordered the streets closed so that children could have a safe place in which to play, and it was his heart that ordered the policemen and firemen in summer to give the children baths from fire hydrants so that they might keep cool.”
Since then, the spray—or trickle, as this NYPL photo of some boys on the Bowery in 1919 shows—from fire hydrants has cooled off millions of little New Yorkers, legally or otherwise.
This AP photo was taken on Mulberry Street in 1936, the year of an exceptionally brutal heat wave.
Turning Mulberry Street into a river looks a lot more exciting than hanging out under a giant shower at Lexington and 85th Street of “Croton surf,” as the caption to this 1920 NYC Municipal Archives photo calls it.
New York in the 1960s could be pretty gritty, but at least the hydrants worked. Photographer Bruce Davidson captured this photo in 1966 of a boy on 100th Street.
A 10-day heat wave gripped the city in 1953, and Life magazine photographers captured some wonderful images of kids opening a hydrant (and then a police officer putting a stop to the fun).
[Top photo: "Hot Day," Lothar Stelter, 1952 ©Lothar Stelter]