It is iconic and seen in numerous films to add a certain mood. So, where does the steam come from that we see rising from manholes?
Beneath the streets of Manhattan there are more than 100 miles of service pipes bringing steam to about 1,800 buildings. It all began in 1882 when New York’s first power plant opened. Steam reduced the amount of soot created by individual coal-burning furnaces which were the primary source of heat at the time.
Steam is an environmentally friendly source of energy and also plays a role in the sanitization of hospital equipment, the dry-cleaning industry, and the humidification process for works of art in the city’s museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The vast majority of the time, the steam one sees is condensation resulting from cooler water, such as rain, falling through manhole covers and coming into contact with the hot pipes below street level.
The steam heat system has been used for more than a hundred years, and occasionally there is a serious incident, such as in 2007 when one person died and 40 people were injured when an old pipe exploded.
Also iconic in New York and seen in numerous films are the carriages around Central Park.