The lost art of steam heating

While this is not a story about computing, it is a story about technology, and a very fascinating technology at that. Sure, steam heating systems may not sound particularly exciting, but trust me – you’d be wrong.

Back in 2016, The New Yorker ran a short story about a presentation by Dan Holohan.

Dan Holohan, a tall, bespectacled man, took the floor. Through such books as “The Lost Art of Steam Heating” and “We Got Steam Heat! A Homeowner’s Guide to Peaceful Coexistence”, as well as the Web site, Holohan has built a community among those who work on and live with the nineteenth-century heating technology that is still common, if not commonly understood, in New York and in other older cities across the country.

It turns out a version of this presentation, held at the Central Park Arsenal for The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York (what a magnificent name!), is available on YouTube, and let me tell you – like you right now, I didn’t think this subject could be even remotely interesting. As it turns out, though, ancient steam heating systems are an absolutely fascinating subject and kind of a neat piece of engineering. Did you know, for instance, that the 102 floors of the Empire State Building are heated with only one and a half pounds of steam pressure?

Holohan is clearly a man proud of his knowledge and trade, and his excitement about this arcane subject is palpable. I highly suggest taking 50 minutes out of your day to watch his presentation.


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