Written By: Lily Rothman, Liz Ronk
The summer of 1953 in New York City was torturous. The temperature was in the 90s (or higher) every day between July 15 and 21, and again between Aug. 24 and Sept. 4 a record-setting 12 days in a row. And that’s not even accounting for other 90-plus days in between.
Keep in mind that air-conditioning was far from widespread. Though the technology has been around since the early 20th century, it was then used primarily in movie theaters and other public spaces.
That meant that, as these Peter Stackpole images show, New Yorkers had to resort to some other, time-tested means of staying cool during those long days of oppressive heat. It meant keeping windows wide open, jumping in the water, keeping a steady supply of icy-cold treats available and of course relying on that most recognizable method of urban cooling: the fire hydrant. When opened, those gushers turn into a city kid’s sprinkler.
Except, of course, that it’s illegal to open a fire hydrant on your own. Today’s city residents can find relief just like their forebears, however: the Fire Department allows citizens to request to have hydrants opened with a proper sprinkler cap, which means residents can cool down without wasting extra water.