“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, though 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.

                       

For Reference

See the Wikipedia  article about manhole covers, which reports that India has become the world leader in manufacturing manhole covers. Wikimedia Commons has a large number of manhole cover photos.

“Adjustable Catchbasin and Manhole Covers,” Engineering News and American Railway Journal, Vol. XLVI, No. 2 (11 July 1901), p. 30.

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“The 14th Ave. Sewer and 60th St. Sewer Tunnel Work, Brooklyn, N.Y.,” Engineering News and American Railway Journal, Vol. XLVI, No. 15 (10 October 1901), pp. 272-273.

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1920 catalog from the predecessor to Neenah Foundry Co.: Aylward Sanitary Iron Catch Basins, Catch Basin Inlets, Manhole and Lamphole Covers, Track Drains, Crossing Plates, Lighting Standards, Special Castings from Drawings, (Neenah, Wisc.: Aylward Sons Company, 1920), cover, pp. 1-8, 21-23, 30.

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Municipal Castings, Neenah Foundry Co., Neenah, Wisconsin – Catalog “N” (Appleton, Wisc.: Badger Printing Co., 1934), cover, pp. 7-13, 48, 58-59, 62.

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Grant M. Olewiler, “Sewer Maintenance,”Sewage Works Journal, Volume IX, No. 5 (September 1937), pp. 808-820.

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U.S. Patents

Patent for vault cover, 1861. Patented by John Myers and George Elbreg on October 22, 1861. U.S. Patent No. 33,538, pp. 1-2.

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

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Patent for sewer catch basin cover, 1870. Patented by Henry Smith, Jr., on November 8, 1870. U.S. Patent No. 109,067.

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

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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, pp. 1-2.

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

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Patent for manhole cover for sewers, 1875. Patented by Daniel H. Fernald on September 7, 1875. U.S. Patent No. 167,444, pp. 1-2.

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

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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, pp. 1-3.

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

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Patent for manhole plate for sewer opening, 1878. Patented by David W. Purtell on April 16, 1878. U.S. Patent No. 202,373, pp.1-2.

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

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Patent for vault and sewer grating, 1884. Patented by James T. McHugh on September 2, 1884. U.S. Patent No. 304,339, pp.1-2.

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

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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, pp. 1-4.

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

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Patent for manhole cover, 1895. A revision to an earlier design (see above), this manhole cover has a recessed section that is filled with asphalt or other paving material. Patented by Thomas P. Greger on April 2, 1895. U.S. Patent No. 536,621, pp. 1-4.

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

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