We typically think of air conditioners (AC) as just an appliance that cools the air around our home. But the effects of ACs reach far beyond atmospherics to the ways we design our houses and how we spend our time. ACs are the enablers of modern American life.
Before air conditioning, in a bygone and surely not as much of comfortable era, people engaged all sorts of strategies for maintaining cool in the heat. Homes had higher ceilings and more windows, mostly because of airflow in mind. Additionally, most houses had verandahs where families typically occupy to spend a blistering day, as well as sleeping porches with sofa beds where they could ride out a warm night. And, a lot of homes took passive solar design into consideration, even if they didn’t label them as such.
Air Conditioner Brief History:
The very first air cooling system resembling a modern AC was built in 1902 by Willis Carrier as he was trying to prevent the paper from wrinkling in the heat and humidity at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company. Shortly, hospitals and industrial buildings began adopting the technology.
Charles Gates was the first person to air condition his home by setting up an unwieldy system in 1914 at his house in Minneapolis.
Since original versions were using a toxic coolant, innovations made air conditioning units smaller and safer in the 1920s.
It was during the postwar period in 1953 that AC arrived all together in American homes, with more than one million units sold.
On the other hand, few places could afford to install the systems during the Depression, but movie theaters saw returns on such an investment. Hence, took advantage of it and consequently, the air conditioning in movie houses became an attraction in itself, and people herded to them. What many consider Hollywood’s Golden Age, not coincidentally, began around the same time.
Air conditioning served the needs of home contractors eager to construct massive numbers of low-cost homes and utilities were only too joyful to keep ramping up electricity consumption to the burgeoning suburbs. Likewise, AC for cars became a status symbol that some people without it, despite 100-degree heat, drove around with their windows shut to give an impression otherwise. The suburban American dream revolved around the sweat of ACs.
A lot of significant changes in our society since World War II would not have been imaginable were AC not keeping our homes and place of work cool. New Mexico, Texas, Southern California, Georgia, Arizona, and Florida all experienced remarkable growth during the latter half of the 20th century which hard to conceive without AC.
The introduction of AC has influenced our family life and shaped our houses too. Homes are designed not for air circulation but central cooling systems. And where they exist, porches have just become relics of another age, and only few new homes have them. Similarly, in the comfort of 72-degree living rooms, families gather indoor to watch TV.
Nonetheless, many are considering keeping their ACs off as homeowners think about reducing their energy consumption. But then again, air conditioners haven’t only chilled the air in our homes. They have eventually reformed our infrastructure, our amusement, and our lifestyles.