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Air-conditioned Memories

July 21, 2022

Thanks to Mr. Carrier!

By Alice Jane-Marie Massa

            As my WORDWALK readers know, this summer has been a hot one in many areas of the United States and in Europe.  On our hottest days of June and July, I have been abundantly grateful that my Carrier air conditioning unit continues to work well.  Thinking about early air conditioning, I learned that Willis Haviland Carrier is the name most associated with inventing the first modern electric air conditioner.  Of course, his surname may be one that you still associate with heating and air conditioning units.  Can you guess the year of his patent?  Although Mr. Carrier was an engineer based in Buffalo, New York, he developed his first system for a publishing company in Brooklyn, New York, in 1902.  Eventually, Mr. Carrier, along with six other engineers, established Carrier Engineering Corporation.

            However, we must also thank a physician and inventor from the 1840s—Dr. John Gorrie, from Florida.  To try to diminish malaria and to make patients in hospitals more comfortable, Dr. Gorrie developed an ice-making machine for which he received a patent in 1851.  Although his invention was never brought to the marketplace—primarily due to the passing of his financial backer—Dr. Gorrie’s efforts became the foundation for modern refrigeration and air conditioning.

In 1904, mechanical refrigeration cooled the Missouri State Building during the St. Louis World’s Fair; thus, for the first time, Americans experienced “comfort cooling.”

With gratitude to Carrier Engineering Corporation, theatre-goers in both Los Angeles and New York enjoyed Carrier’s well-designed cooling systems beginning in 1922.  Developments continued; and finally, in 1947, window air-conditioning units designed by Henry Galson, were marketed with   43,000 sold.

            By the late 1960s, most new homes had central air while window air conditioners became  more affordable.  In my following piece–revised a little from its first posting on WORDWALK on August 6, 2014—you will read how air conditioning came into my hometown and nearby locations.   

Air-conditioned Memories

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

            With August stepping into summer, Milwaukee is enjoying a splendid week of not-too-hot summer weather.  Sunny skies keep shining over this year’s Wisconsin State Fair.  Since tonight is the big 4-H Auction at the fair, I am thinking of the times we went to the Indiana State Fair.  On one very hot and humid August day at the state fair in Indianapolis, the fragrance from the cattle barn was not at all tempting me to enter.  Tall electric fans were circulating the air, but not dissipating the odors.  Although I knew that we would probably be able to visit with our friend Sue Secondino inside the barn, I told my Aunt Zita and my sister that they could go into the cattle barn while I waited for them outside one of the doors.  Sue, who had been raised on a farm and then joined her husband in having their own farm, had a quick reply when my sister told her that I stayed outside because of the smell.  Sue quipped, “It smells like money to me!”  (In 1957, Sue’s Hereford “Honeymoon” was awarded grand champion steer at the International Livestock Exposition, in Chicago; radio and television star Arthur Godfrey bought the steer.)

            Sue’s mother was a favorite teacher of both my sister and me.   While Mrs. Marguerite Lenderman was my teacher for the second semester of third grade and all of fourth grade (1959-1960), Mrs. Lenderman taught my sister in third grade (1955-1956).  This outstanding teacher’s handwriting could have rivaled the Palmer Method posters that were displayed above the chalkboards.  With style, grace, artistry, strictness, and kindness–Mrs. Lenderman was one of the most accomplished and exemplary teachers of Jacksonville Grade School and of that era.  Through following her best practices, my sister and I eventually became better teachers. 

            In the two-story, brick Jacksonville Grade School of Blanford, Indiana, we never dreamed of an air-conditioned classroom.  Since the lower story was partially below ground level, the first- and second-grade classroom, as well as the third- and fourth-grade classroom, stayed relatively cool in warmer weather months.  Of course, the upstairs rooms were warmer; but we 88 students never seemed to mind the room temperature.  In the ’50s, none of the Blanford homes had air-conditioning. 

            The first places which I remember having air-conditioning were the two movie theaters of nearby Clinton, Indiana (seven miles from Blanford).  I recall a picture of a polar bear on a block of ice which advertised the coolness of either the Palace Theater or the Wabash Theater (both on Main Street).  I believe the first building in Blanford to have an air-conditioner was my Aunt Zita’s restaurant.  Even though window air-conditioning units kept the dining rooms and the bar room cool during the summer months, the two kitchens were still hot at times.  Nevertheless, I do not remember anyone complaining about the heat.  In our small rural town, I recall that the first home to have an air conditioner was the residence of the Gisolo family because their daughter had severe hay fever and other allergies.  I was not in an air-conditioned classroom until I went to Indiana State University in 1968–only some of the buildings were air-conditioned. 

            In the years before our Blanford home acquired a window air-conditioner, electric window fans brought in the cooler evening air.  During the day, the large maple trees, which had been planted by my maternal grandfather, shaded our yard, front porch, and house so that hot August days were not too bothersome.  Eagerly, I awaited those hot days of summer so that I could go swimming at the Aragon Swimming Pool, in Clinton. 

            On a hot summer evening when I was young, sitting on the front porch swing with my dad was a special time.  Before air-conditioning drew us indoors–our extended family, friends, and neighbors certainly enjoyed front porches more.  Who needed air-conditioning then?

            Sometime after I moved away from home and into my own apartment, my parents had central air installed in our Blanford home.  Now, Lake Michigan–Mother Nature’s air conditioner–often cools off the east side of Milwaukee during the summer months.  Although I frequently miss my Indiana home, I do not miss the Hoosier humidity.  During the 23 years that I have lived in Milwaukee, I have become spoiled by the lake breezes.  Unfortunately, during last summer and this summer–the smells, dust, and sounds of the construction in my area have prompted me to use my central air conditioning much, much more than I would like.

Enjoy these last weeks of summer!


August 6, 2014, Wednesday

Stay cool during these final ten days of July!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

July 21, 2022, Thursday


From → Uncategorized

  1. mfanyo permalink

    Thanks for your research on the development of air-conditioning and for AC history in our family, Alice. I do remember that Dad had a system for cooling our house with the window fans—strategically rotating them from one bedroom to another so we could get a good night’s sleep. Here in Arvada, we have made good use of our AC during a long string of 90 plus daytime temperatures. Eric and his family escaped the heat during their recent visit with us by driving to more than 14, 000 feet in elevation to Mt. Evans, just west of Denver. While at the summit of Mt. Evans, the weather changed from clouds to rain, followed by sleet and snow! What a shocking way to cool off! Our Michigan grandchildren could hardly believe that snow could be falling in the middle of summer!

    Enjoy! Soon we will feel that fall nip in the air. Time to turn the AC off. Love, Mary Sent from my iPad


    • Thanks, Mary for adding your comments to this post!  Lanie and Caden had
      quite a weather experience on their vacation!  I recall a July in 1976
      or 1977 when we went to Rocky Mountain National Park.  We were walking
      around Bear Lake where there was still a fair amount of snow, through
      which you were walking while wearing summer sandals!  Despite the snow,
      the high altitude sun kept us warm.

      Stay cool, and enjoy your pool!

      Alice and Willow

  2. Susan McKendry permalink

    Thanks for reminding us that there WAS life before AC. When we replaced our furnace we also had an air conditioner installed because my elderly mother was living with us. Unfortunately, she always found it too cold and would wrap herself in a quilt on those days that we used it. Mother has been gone for some time, and now our 13-year-old black cat insists on climbing into one of the kitchen garden windows for 360 degree sunshine on the hottest days when we use it. So I guess not everyone loves AC, but there are days when we definitely appreciate it.

    • Hello, Sue–Thanks for sharing your air-conditioned memories! When we
      had a large window air conditioner in one living room window, the living
      room was always too chilly for my taste; however, the adjoining rooms
      were more pleasant on the hottest and most humid of Hoosier days.  I
      recall being quite glad when my parents finally replaced that window air
      conditioner with central air.

      Stay cool this summer!

      Best always, Alice and Willow

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