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There are always little things in life that we may never consider the "how" and "what" of. Until recently, one of the things I never thought of was where do water hydrants come from? Who makes them? Obviously they do not just sprout up like mushrooms; someone designs, manufactures and installs them.

One response to my curiosity:

I am a structural engineering (designs buildings), but work with various mechanical engineers, who design pumps, valves, and piping systems, so I would venture a guess that fire hydrants (since they are just a type of valve) are designed by mechanical engineers.

However, the 'wet-barrel' type fire hydrant (aka California Fire Hydrant) was designed/invented by my wife's great-great-grandfather (Morris Greenberg) whose only formal training was in foundry work (casting and forging metals). Morris started a foundry in S.F. California around 1854, which manufactured fire hydrants through the 1980s.

- BH

Aside from the general purpose of delivering water for fire fighting, the hydrant design selected must be based on a number of operational elements. Some of the issues that are considered include:

  • How much water is needed for fire fighting for the specific placement of the hydrant
  • How many and what size hose connections will be required.
  • Current (and future) configuration of fire apparatus.
  • Issues of clearance and visibility.
  • Operating characteristics of the hydrants.
  • Amount of head (static pressure) that is present in the system.
  • Climatic conditions in the area.

In addition, hydrants must be simple and reliable to connect to and to operate. Operating nuts need to be pentagonal or triangular in design to reduce tampering by unauthorized persons.

A Little Hydrant History

A fire hydrant (also known as a fire plug or as a Johnny Pump in New York City), dates to at least the 1600s.After the Great Fire of London in 1666, the city installed water mains with holes drilled at intervals, equipped with risers, allowing an access point to the wooden fire plugs from street level.

Numerous wooden cased fire hydrant designs existed prior to the development of the familiar cast iron hydrant. Although the development of the first above ground hydrant in the USA traces back to Philadelphia in 1803, underground fire hydrants - common in parts of Europe and Asia - have existed since the 1700s.


Anther helpful response to my questions was from Louis Carl - Chief Engineer of Kennedy Valve

Mostly but not exclusively mechanical engineers design hydrants but not every designer is a mechanical engineer.

Doesn't hurt to know drafting backwards and forwards, placement of views, projections etc. That is how you communicate in the manufacturing world.Doesn't hurt to have some stress analysis - say, at least to what they teach at the community college level. Odds are that if it isn't pretty and doesn't look graceful you can't cast it. Ditto when designing things that have flow going thru them - if it isn't graceful there will probably be a lot of friction loss inside of it.

It would be worthwhile to consider being a design engineer specializing in castings. Right at the moment engineers are a scarce commodity and people familiar with metal casting can write their own ticket.


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