One of the first things New Orleanians want to know when the rain comes down hard is "Are the pumps on?"--a crucial consideration in our saucer-shaped city where every drop of rain water has to be pumped out of the drainage canals into Lake Pontchartrain, Lake Borgne or the Intracoastal Waterway. Even the mighty New Orleans pumps, originally designed and patented in 1915 by S&WB engineer A. Baldwin Wood and famous the world round, can't always keep up; almost all New Orleanians have experienced memorable days or nights when the amount of rainfall exceeds the capacity of the huge pumps, and water overflows into the city's streets and--sometimes--its structures. But life in New Orleans today is a far cry from life in those pre-pump days when even moderate rainfall made the city's streets impassable and turned the town into a muddy swamp.

Shown here is the interior of the pumping station at North Broad and St. Louis Streets, ca. 1958. Some of the original Wood pumps are still in use, a tribute to Baldwin Wood's genius; newer pumps are still built according to his design.
Photograph by Leon Trice. Municipal Government Photograph Collection, Sewerage and Water Board Series.