When I was young, every manhole cover had the same inscription: “Neena Foundry, Neena, Wisconsin” molded into its cast iron face. Neenah Foundry was established in 1872 to make plows. Since then it’s expanded to include the ubiquitous manhole covers and many other products. Wikipedia says those pizza-shaped slabs of metal can be found in all 50 states and 17 countries!
So why a history of the manhole cover? Because I’ve noticed, during my travels, that they are incredibly creative. Unlike when I was in my youth, manhole covers are now personalized to towns and regions. Check for yourself.
In front of my home, in our little neighborhood in the desert, the town of Buckeye features a good old-fashioned western saddle and, I’m guessing, the nearby White Tank Mountains on the sewer access lids.
When I spotted the creative design, I started looking down a bit more and found Buckeye is not alone. In San Diego, I spotted a spin on the Neenah Foundry design. This one clearly states “Made in India.”
In Richmond, British Columbia, I wandered several blocks to snap images of a variety of manhole covers all designed to tell the story of the area’s fishing industry’s history and the role the Asian community plays in the seaside town.
The manhole covers in the mining town of Bisbee, Arizona feature scenes of the town’s main industry.
I find myself sneaking peeks at the street a little more often now. There are stories to be found in the images forged into these maintenance access doorways.
There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. You never know what you’ll find when you look down.