Source of New York Steam Blast Is a Literal Mystery

Steam power is a technology whose time may have come and gone

5 min read

Remember the opening of the movie Taxi Driver ? In that iconic montage, cabbie Travis Bickle motors through the slick streets of New York City immersed in clouds of swirling steam rising from seemingly nowhere.

In the aftermath of the gigantic steam-pipe blast in midtown Manhattan last month, many have wondered what on earth such pipes are still doing under the streets of the big city. This is the Wireless Age, isn’t it, so why are conduits from the Steam Age still operating underground? Indeed, while most New Yorkers know that the city uses steam for something, they have little idea what that something is. Heating maybe? And visitors to the Big Apple are left in an even greater state of confusion. Locals have often smirked as concerned tourists, who have stopped to sniff the wisps of gas emanating from drain gratings, earnestly proclaimed to their friends, ”It’s okay; it’s only steam.”

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Greg Mably


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