A century of fire hydrants cooling New York kids

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]

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9 Responses to “A century of fire hydrants cooling New York kids”

  1. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    Incredible sexy suits that wearing, if you look at the one before the stripes in pic 1, she’s practically nude! Ooh la la!

  2. ronfrankl Says:

    I don’t know when it started or when it was discontinued, but for a while you supposedly could go into your local police precinct and request a sprinkler cap to fit on a hydrant. It was less wasteful than a completely open hydrant, and didn’t lower the water pressure of the hydrant system, which could be dangerous if there was a large fire nearby. I guess they figured that, if it was hot, people were going open hydrants anyway, and the sprinkler caps were a practical way to control the situation.

  3. Annie Haddad Says:

    If memory serves, sprinkler caps were required some time in the ’70s, essentially ending the fun for us Brooklyn youth, who delighted in the force and quantity of the water as it gushed from a hydrant opened full throttle.

  4. ledamato Says:

    Sprinkler cap=no fun in our Brooklyn neighborhood. I remember the one kid who would find a soup can with top and bottom removed controlling the height and flow of the water. Such fun until some party pooper called the cops. Such silence as the officer turned off the water with that huge wrench!

  5. Arturo Gomez Says:

    We called them johnny pump in the Bronx

  6. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    Hey, johnny pumps here on the Lower East Side too.

  7. Ah, les « sauvageons »… | Madjid Ben Chikh, Tokyo | Le Blog de Suppaiku Says:

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  8. AH, LES « SAUVAGEONS »… – Suppaiku| Le Blog de Madjid Ben Chikh Says:

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