29 F
Thursday, November 30, 2023

Transitions — A look back into surviving the heat


With temperatures over 90 degrees for days on end, I got to thinking about how people survived before there was electricity and oscillating fans and definitely before air conditioning. I’ve heard stories of sleeping on porches and roofs, and in backyards and parks.

A family might also spend the night doing 4 at 40—4 windows at 40 mph. Gas was cheap.

Daytime was really an exercise in survival. Clothing was more restrictive. Frequently, men were expected to wear suits and ties. It was a big deal when they were allowed to remove jackets. Too bad, women couldn’t remove those nylons and girdles. No wonder Keira Knightley’s character fainted in the Pirates movie.

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Almost everyone I asked grew up without air conditioning, a notable exception was a neighbor whose father installed industrial air conditioning, so they were first in line for home units.

When Willis Carrier invented modern air conditioner in 1902, it was for industrial quality control, not for the comfort of the workers. Home air conditioning came only after WWII.

Unfortunately, our affluent younger people cannot imagine life without AC. But heat can also be an attitude.

My daughter was miserable during a summer study in France. It was a 100 degrees yet she could see snow on the nearby Alps. Her host family did not have AC!

Three years later, she visited a friend in the Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa, near the equator. With sporadic electricity and no running water, she expected heat, and recently remarked that it was not as hot as Chicago last month.

So what did people do to keep cool other than opening all the windows and doors and hoping for a breeze?

Right now it’s too hot for me to come up with a good answer.


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Barbara Blomquist
Barbara Blomquist
Barbara Blomquist is a Naperville resident, wife, mother, quilter, and screenwriter. Contact her at BWBLomquist@aol.com.


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