Launch Slideshow

Bratislava has seen its share of war and conflict; this manhole cover dates back just 20 years, after it became the capital of the newly formed Slovak Republic.

Manhole masterpieces

Manhole masterpieces

  • Bratislava has seen its share of war and conflict; this manhole cover dates back just 20 years, after it became the capital of the newly formed Slovak Republic.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_bratislav%20slovakia_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-7_tcm111-2113676.jpg

    true

    Bratislava has seen its share of war and conflict; this manhole cover dates back just 20 years, after it became the capital of the newly formed Slovak Republic.

    600

    Jürgen Howaldt

    Bratislava has seen its share of war and conflict; this manhole cover dates back just 20 years, after it became the capital of the newly formed Slovak Republic.
  • This 86-year-old Tubingen, Germany, manhole cover incorporates vents into its geometric design.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_canalbau%20germany_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-6_tcm111-2113677.jpg

    true

    This 86-year-old Tubingen, Germany, manhole cover incorporates vents into its geometric design.

    600

    Bjorn Appel

    This 86-year-old Tubingen, Germany, manhole cover incorporates vents into its geometric design.
  • http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_egypt_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-13_tcm111-2113678.jpg

    true

    600

  • Hsinchu, Taiwan, was first founded in the 17th century but did not attain official city designation until just 84 years ago.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_hsin%20taiwan_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-4_tcm111-2113679.jpg

    true

    Hsinchu, Taiwan, was first founded in the 17th century but did not attain official city designation until just 84 years ago.

    600

    Josie Liao

    Hsinchu, Taiwan, was first founded in the 17th century but did not attain official city designation until just 84 years ago.
  • Israel is a country where many languages are spoken; the linguistic diversity can add to the wordiness of street signs and manhole covers alike.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_israel_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-11_tcm111-2113680.jpg

    true

    Israel is a country where many languages are spoken; the linguistic diversity can add to the wordiness of street signs and manhole covers alike.

    600

    Hyrdlak

    Israel is a country where many languages are spoken; the linguistic diversity can add to the wordiness of street signs and manhole covers alike.
  • Japans manhole covers are among some of the loveliest. Many of the covers are painted, then repainted when wear and tear from traffic does its work, by city officials or civilians.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_kobe%20japan_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-2_tcm111-2113681.jpg

    true

    Japans manhole covers are among some of the loveliest. Many of the covers are painted, then repainted when wear and tear from traffic does its work, by city officials or civilians.

    600

    Janne Koren

    Japan’s manhole covers are among some of the loveliest. Many of the covers are painted, then repainted when wear and tear from traffic does its work, by city officials or civilians.
  • In older cities, manhole covers frequently feature ornate designs. Some (like this Madrid piece) even tell stories or show lively scenes of city life.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_madrid_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-1_tcm111-2113682.jpg

    true

    In older cities, manhole covers frequently feature ornate designs. Some (like this Madrid piece) even tell stories or show lively scenes of city life.

    600

    Dmitry Shytsko

    In older cities, manhole covers frequently feature ornate designs. Some (like this Madrid piece) even tell stories or show lively scenes of city life.
  • Most manhole covers arent very whimsicalnot so with this cover in Nishimera Village, Miyazaki, Japan.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_miyazaki%20japan_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-9_tcm111-2113683.jpg

    true

    Most manhole covers arent very whimsicalnot so with this cover in Nishimera Village, Miyazaki, Japan.

    600

    Sanjo

    Most manhole covers aren’t very whimsical—not so with this cover in Nishimera Village, Miyazaki, Japan.
  • Cities in the U.K. each have their own manhole designs. Frequently, the diversity stretches into neighborhoods, like this unique cover in Londons Notting Hill area.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_notting%20hill%20england_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-12_tcm111-2113684.jpg

    true

    Cities in the U.K. each have their own manhole designs. Frequently, the diversity stretches into neighborhoods, like this unique cover in Londons Notting Hill area.

    600

    Oxfordian Kissuth

    Cities in the U.K. each have their own manhole designs. Frequently, the diversity stretches into neighborhoods, like this unique cover in London’s Notting Hill area.
  • http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_NYC_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-10_tcm111-2113685.jpg

    true

    600

  • This Tampere, Finland, manhole cover gives a nod to two of its core industries: construction and medicine.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_tampere%20finland_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-8_tcm111-2113686.jpg

    true

    This Tampere, Finland, manhole cover gives a nod to two of its core industries: construction and medicine.

    600

    This Tampere, Finland, manhole cover gives a nod to two of its core industries: construction and medicine.
  • Viborg is one of Denmarks oldest cities, dating back to the 8th century. Although its manhole covers are a few centuries younger, they hearken back to its history.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_viborg%20denmark_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-3_tcm111-2113687.jpg

    true

    Viborg is one of Denmarks oldest cities, dating back to the 8th century. Although its manhole covers are a few centuries younger, they hearken back to its history.

    600

    Steen Jeppesen

    Viborg is one of Denmark’s oldest cities, dating back to the 8th century. Although its manhole covers are a few centuries younger, they hearken back to its history.
  • Manhole covers in German cities sometimes bear city seals or coats of arms. Others feature simple, yet striking, designs.

    http://www.pwmag.com/Images/manhole%20covers_wiesbaden%20germany_out%20of%20the%20ordinary-5_tcm111-2113688.jpg

    true

    Manhole covers in German cities sometimes bear city seals or coats of arms. Others feature simple, yet striking, designs.

    600

    Bjorn Appel

    Manhole covers in German cities sometimes bear city seals or coats of arms. Others feature simple, yet striking, designs.

As important as infrastructure is to public works pros like us, most of the world doesn’t give the undercarriage of your average city a moment’s thought. However, the manhole covers, storm drains, sewer grates, and other massive pieces of metal that protect and give access to our underground assets are all too popular with thieves. Calcutta, India, loses upward of 20,000 manhole covers annually. And losses total about 24,000 in Beijing, China, every year.

The U.S. isn’t immune. New York City officials estimate that about 20,000 of their covers disappear each year.

The reason for such frequent manhole cover theft is most likely the desire to make a few bucks selling them for scrap. Maybe some of those thieves, however, simply appreciate works of art.

—Jenni Spinner is a Chicago-based freelancer and former associate editor of Public Works.