Pratt Institute was founded in 1887, in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. Due to the advancements in technology, the school was able to build its own steam-powered electrical plant the following year.
Two years later, those generators were replaced with the ones that sit on the campus to this very day. The engine room was powering Pratt with direct current until 1977, but DC had become obsolete and the school had to switch to alternating current. The generators are now purely used for show.
Conrad Milster, the chief engineer since 1958, has dedicated his life to keeping the elaborate machinery in pristine working order. The marble switchboard looks as beautiful and new as it did at the turn of the last century. The generators themselves glisten with their beautiful red paint.
The engine room really came to life every New Year’s Eve, when Mr. Milster put on his celebrated whistle show. However, the last of these celebrations was January 31, 2014. He has been collecting a vast array of steam-powered whistles for decades, coming off of everything from locomotives to the SS Normandie. Hooked up to the generators and lined up across the campus lawn, the whistles create an overwhelming display of industrial sound and steam.
The engine room is also home to several dozen cats, also cared for by Mr. Milster. The cats roam the Pratt campus and are beloved by students and faculty. Visitors to the engine room can see a display of ribbons and awards won by Pratt cats over the years.
Update September 2018: This is closed to the public.
Visit New York State with Atlas Obscura Trips
Only in Queens: Tasting Our Way Through New York’s Most Diverse Borough
Manhattan may have name-brand recognition and Brooklyn a certain cache, but Queens is the city’s largest and most diverse borough. Join us, October 4-7, to dig into Queens’ rich neighborhood life.