Manhole covers - history, early designs and examples (1)
(Click on thumbnails to enlarge image)


"Manhole covers" started off as slabs of stone or pieces of wood allowing access to covered trenches that carried sewage. This basic design was in use from 3500 BCE through the 1750s-1850s CE. In the nineteenth century, modern manholes and the modern manhole cover were developed. For the last 200+ years, iron works in the United States have made cast-iron manhole covers—some weighing as much as 300 lbs. each, some rectangular, some square, but for the most part, round. The oldest available foundry catalog for manhole covers dates back to 1860.

Not a whole lot has really changed in the years between the 1870s and now relative to the philosophy of manhole design, definitions, etc.; mainly materials and installation techniques have changed. The early designers had an amazingly good sense of what was needed.

See Tracking Down the Roots of Our Sanitary Sewers for more information.

   


Return to photo index

Next

Ancient

Roman Empire sewer cover from Vienna (then called Vindobona), circa 1st to 4th century C.E. At that time Vindobona was a military camp with a civilian town close to the province border of Noricum. Stones like these may have been used to cover sewers, but more likely a decorated one like this would have been used to access sewer lines as in modern manhole covers. Located in the Museum of Vienna.

Source: Csilla Pall, Baden bei Wien, Austria.

Austria

Vienna's sewers are seen in the classic 1949 movie "The Third Man," which starred Orson Welles in the role of Harry Lime. A scene in the movie shows Lime climbing into a manhole to escape through the Vienna sewers. (See bottom photo from www.thirdmantour.at. Additional photos and movie posters can be seen at the MTPV Image Vault and the IMDB website.)

These photos show one of Vienna's unusual manholes, which lead from street level down to the vaulted sewers -- utilizing special segmented covers and spiral stairs.

These spiral stairs were similar to ones used in Paris, France, to get from street level down to the sewers for tours on the weekends, starting in the late 1800's. A tour of Vienna's sewers, titled "The Third Man Tour," can be arranged by contacting www.thirdmantour.at .

Source: Karin Hoefler, Dritte Mann Museum, Vienna, Austria. Brought to our attention by Bobbi Mastrangelo.

 

Patents and early designs

Patent for vault cover, 1861. Patented by John Myers and George Elbreg on October 22, 1861. U.S. Patent No. 33,538. See full text description. (Use back button to return to graphics section.)

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov.

Patent for sewer basin, 1861. Patented by William H. Short on April 9, 1861. U.S. Patent No. 32,008. See full text description. (Use back button to return to graphics section.)

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov.

Patent for sewer catch basin cover, 1870. Patented by Henry Smith, Jr., on November 8, 1870. U.S. Patent No. 109,067. See full text description. (Use back button to return to graphics section.)

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov.

Patent for improvement in cover and traps for sewer basins, 1872. Patented by William H. Chase and George White on April 2, 1872. U.S. Patent No. 125,118. See full text description. (Use back button to return to graphics section.)

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov.

Patent for manhole cover for sewers, 1875. Patented by Daniel H. Fernald on September 7, 1875. U.S. Patent No. 167,444. See full text description. (Use back button to return to graphics section.)

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov.

Patent for manhole and cover, 1878. The pan cover was filled with wood or rubber blocks to street level. Patented by Thomas Kerr on March 19, 1878. U.S. Patent No. 201,349. See full text description. (Use back button to return to graphics section.)

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov.

Patent for manhole plate for sewer opening, 1878. Patented by David W. Purtell on April 16, 1878. U.S. Patent No. 202,373. See full text description. (Use back button to return to graphics section.)

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov.

Patent for vault and sewer grating, 1884. Patented by James T. McHugh on September 2, 1884. U.S. Patent No. 304,339. See full text description. (Use back button to return to graphics section.)

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov.

Cross-sections of Boston sewers, circa 1885. Note detail of ventilating manhole cover with catch pail in the lower right.

Source: Eliot C. Clarke, Main Drainage Works of the City of Boston, 2nd edition (Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, City Printers, 1885), Plate VI.

Patent for manhole cover, 1894. The manhole cover has a recessed section that is filled with paving material. Patented by Thomas P. Greger on August 28, 1894. U.S. Patent No. 525,101. Sheet 1 of 2. See full text description. (Use back button to return to graphics section.)

Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov.

   


Return to photo index

Next

[ Home ] [ Time Lines ] [ Articles ] [ Photos/Graphics ] [ Display ] [ Bibliography ] [ Miscellaneous ] [ Links ] [ Search ]
 
Copyright © 2004 sewerhistory.org. All rights reserved.