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Featured Place That Matters: Pratt’s New Year’s Eve Steam Whistle Blow

pratt new years eve steam whistles

The New Year’s Eve Steam Whistle Blow at Pratt Institute, located at 200 Willoughby Avenue in Brooklyn, was nominated to the Census of Places that Matter for being a literal New Year’s Eve blast!

Steam whistles, salvaged from trains, riverboats, ocean liners and factories, are kept in Pratt’s steam-powered plant, the oldest, privately-owned, continuously operating, power plant of its kind in the country. Conrad Milster, Pratt’s longtime Chief Engineer, blew the first whistle of his collection on New Year’s Eve 1965. Over the past four decades his collection has grown, as has the popularity of his annual New Year’s Eve steam whistle blast. Pratt’s website boasts:

“Pulling the lever on the whistle from the U.S.S. Normandy and being enveloped in steam is an experience not to be missed.”

pratt power plant steam engine room

Milster’s passion for whistles is matched only by his enthusiasm for engines. He is responsible for maintaining the Pratt power plant’s steam engine room. Like the hydraulic stage at Radio City Music Hall, the Holland Tunnel ventilation system or the entire IRT subway line, Pratt’s 1887 power plant was designated a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The Engine Room in the East Building houses this beautiful red, antique steam turbine, along with its accompanying brass gauges, dials, levers and pulleys.

In an interview with Jeff Sharlet for Brooklyn Bridge magazine, Milster explained, “I am a preservationist of mechanical artifacts. Some people save buildings, with the furniture and lace and all that. I save engines. Today, machinery is buried behind walls, but I have seen machinery that was built to be art.”