If you’ve ever endured a night when your air conditioner has gone out or you’ve lived or visited in a city that doesn’t have AC units, you know the enormous convenience it provides. Yet, the history of air conditioning goes well beyond convenience. In reality, this invention has shape history itself and allowed humans to thrive in climates and seasons that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Let’s take a look at the history of air conditioning and some of its most important influences.
Most of the United States sees temperatures creep into the high 80s and 90s during the summertime. Yet, some parts of the country see an even more extreme side of the sun. A state like Arizona simply didn’t exist until 1912 because the technology that makes it a pleasant place to live didn’t exist. Air conditioning and water technology have been instrumental enablers of modern American life.
The Sunbelt’s share of the nation’s population exploded from 28 percent to around 40 percent from 1950 to 2000. This region includes Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, South Carolina, Texas, two-thirds of California, and parts of North Carolina, Nevada, and Utah.
As the air conditioner was invented right before the Great Depression, it wasn’t for quite some time that they became “mainstream.” In fact, one of the only places that truly saw a return on their investment in AC units was movie theaters. The ability to sit in a cool building and be entertained was nothing short of pleasant. Was it a coincidence that this began Hollywood’s Golden Age? Probably not.
Likewise, families began to gather in their air-conditioned living rooms around their TVs rather than outside on the porch. Do we have AC to thank for the central place that television holds in American life?
In the postwar era, air conditioning units sold wildly. Over one million units sold in 1953 alone. It became the ultimate status symbol, and those lucky enough to have AC in their cars would go as far as to drive around with their windows up in 100-degree weather just to make their luxury clear.
There’s no denying that air conditioning has shaped our daily life, homes, family life, and perception of luxury. What’s now commonplace was once a shiny new toy – and remains that way in developing parts of the world.
The early air conditioner saw its fair share of failure before it became a staple in the American way of life. Today, you probably can’t imagine a home, office, restaurant, or movie theater without it.