There was life BAC, (before A/C)

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

The temperature was in the lower 80s outside, and I was driving without air conditioning and with the windows half-way down.

Sure, it was a little warm, but still well within my comfort range. I like warm.

“Turn on the A/C. I’m burning up in here,” complained my unhappy passenger.

“Why don’t we just enjoy the outdoors while we can? It won’t be long before we have to use the A/C all the time,” I suggested to my passenger.

But, the A/C got turned on in the car, and the windows were closed.

“What did people do before air conditioning was invented?” I asked. “People lived here before A/C, you know.”

“True,” came the response, “and they were very hot.”

Have you noticed that many people over-correct for the temperature, because they can?

I know people who turn the thermostat down to 69 in hotel rooms, then sleep under the covers. But when it’s 69 outside, they complain that it’s too cold. Artificial cool is fine, though.

So how did people get along in the good old days, before Willis Carrier invented air conditioning?
It was an American invention, of course.

On July 17, 1902, Willis Haviland Carrier designed the first modern air-conditioning system, launching an industry that would fundamentally improve the way of life. It would be a while before his invention was ready for general consumption.

Carrier then decided to make a lot of money, and his company’s name, which was also his own, became a household name, and still is.

Here is how it happened, according to the Carrier company’s own web page.

“Genius can strike anywhere. For Willis Carrier, it was a foggy Pittsburgh train platform in 1902. Carrier stared through the mist and realized that he could dry air by passing it through water to create fog. Doing so would make it possible to manufacture air with specific amounts of moisture in it. Within a year, he completed his invention to control humidity – the fundamental building block for modern air conditioning.”

But, there was life before Carrier in places of the country where it is usually very hot in the summer.
I recently toured some historical homes in Galveston that were built way before A/C. They were all built in ways to take advantage of nature’s own cooling features. Big windows were opened to let the air blow through the house.

Near the ceiling, where the heat rises, air movement was created by placing small windows above doors to allow for cross-ventilation.

Our tour guide pointed to porches, where the residents sometimes slept on the hottest evenings.

The only problem I could find with this was that when it’s 95 degrees outside, the cross ventilating air also is 95 degrees, which doesn’t help all that much. But at least it’s not hotter than that.

Before A/C. people went swimming and took naps during the hottest part of the day. They stayed in the shade also and reduced their activities as the temperature increased. And, they probably complained about the heat, but after a while that got old, and they just talked about other things.

But who would choose a hot and humid city, such as Houston or Miami, to live in if they could live in, let’s say, New York or Boston, where the summers are shorter and not all that hot?

Far fewer people than those who chose the cooler climate. All that changed, however, when the masses invested in air conditioning.

The South will rise again, right? Well, it started to rise in the 1960s, when A/C became affordable to the average family. It didn’t require another Civil War. Carrier did it with his invention.

As air conditioning became more affordable, the population began shifting, increasing in the “Sun Belt” and decreasing in the colder climates. In 1960, 31.2% of the U.S. population lived in the warmest states. By 2010, this share of the population rose to 43.4%.

It’s going to get hot again this summer, dear readers, but as we hop out of the air-conditioned car and into the air-conditioned home, or store, just remember that it used to be worse. The good old days were not really all that good.

My passenger stopped complaining as the cool air filled the car. My nose was getting cold, but I didn’t complain. It’s just the way it is. Every invention has its side-effects, like over-correcting.

Thank you, Willis Carrier for a great invention. Now how do I pry my frozen hands off this steering wheel? Just kidding. I’m wearing gloves.