“I have discovered that the world over, unusual weather prevails at all times of the year.”
Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1875-1950
American writer and creator of ‘Tarzan’
Anyone yearning for the days gone by, when life was simpler? Stripped from modern technology, undeniably our ancestors dealt with life “full on” including abscessed teeth, chamber pots and the bubonic plague to name a few. Now, lack of air conditioning during the summer is our main complaint. As temperatures reach “season peak” and from our climate-controlled environments, it’s interesting to look back.
Until the 20th century, Americans dealt with hot weather as many still do around the world. Primitive air cooling devices probably existed since the first summer in our stuffy, hot caves. What did Fred and Wilma do?
Beyond our “cave days,” attempts to stay cool were inefficient and costly. So even money was no guarantee of keeping cool. But the need for comfort drove people to be inventive.
With a climate similar to ours, the ancient Romans circulated water from the aqueducts, through the walls, to cool their homes. An emperor, Elagabalus, imported mountain snow via donkey trains, mounding it in the gardens surrounding his villa. Even in those days, he was considered eccentric and a bit crazy by the citizens of Rome.
In 2nd century China, the first room-sized rotary fan (hand powered) was invented. Another attempt at temperature control occurred in the Middle East as architecture was designed to catch and circulate prevailing breezes using “wind towers.” The air flow is forced down, cooling the building’s interior. Its effectiveness is evident as today’s construction often incorporates this design.
Electricity was a major breakthrough. In 1902, Willis Carrier invented the modern day air conditioner installed in the Rivoli Theater in Times Square. Its public debut was in 1925 and soon people flocked to theaters to enjoy cool air and a movie – the summer block buster was born. Soon to follow, department stores, trains and offices became air conditioned. Residential cooling was slower to take hold; in 1965 only 10% of U.S. homes had a/c. These days, over 90% of U.S. families have the means to escape the heat.
Heat plus a monsoonal flow makes for some sticky days ahead. Daytime temperatures drop to 80s, and 60s at night with possible thundershowers. Next week brings higher temperatures again. So turn up the a/c. Or better yet – enjoy cinema cooling, movie included.
Sue Kilpatrick is a Crescenta Valley
resident and Official Skywarn Spotter for the National Weather Service.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.