An older fire hydrant, still in use.
An older fire hydrant, still in use.

When Henry Roth wrote his novel "Call it Sleep" in 1934, he incorporated the New York City nickname for a fire hydrant, the "Johnny Pump." Though not as commonly used today, some of New York City's old timers still use the slang term.

Early Days of Firefighting

Between 1648 and 1865, the all-volunteer New York City firefighters went from bucket brigades to hand-pulling water wagons and hook-and-ladder trunks. Beginning in 1865, horse-drawn firefighting equipment came into play. These were larger, steam-pumped fire wagons that delivered more pressure than the hand-pumped variety. The first fire hydrant went into place in 1808. By 1817, there was a network of iron, lower-pressure fire hydrants throughout the growing city.

Invention of the Johnny Pump

Inventor John Giraud came up with a hydrant that used compressed air to increase the available water pressure. Created in 1830, it allowed firefighters to use longer hoses to better fight fires on increasingly taller buildings. Giraud's invention soon replaced other hydrants throughout the city. It's thought that firefighter's dubbed it the Johnny Pump, after its inventor.