I remember that when you first opened the car door, the heat just blasted out of the vehicle interior, like a wave from the devil’s domain. Then when you sat down in this inferno, if you had shorts on you’d burn your legs on the seats, they were so hot. You could hardly grip the steering wheel, either.
We may go through that for a few seconds today, before our car AC takes effect. But back in the day, there was no relief. You could roll down (yes roll because few cars had push button windows then) all the windows but that hardly helped. And every time you came to a stop light, you’d sit there baking until you could get moving again. And this is why I never drive my 1939 Chrysler in the middle of a summer day.
So, I think that car air conditioning is one of the all-time great inventions.
But, I’m really here today, folks to talk about the fans that we employed to try to keep comfortable in our Southern buildings in the days BA (before air conditioning),.
There were the little oscillating fans, that you put on a desk or table and that moved back and forth, blowing hot air on everything within a few feet of them. Of course, you couldn’t have any loose papers or other lightweight objects within its range, or they’d quickly be blown off on to the floor.
Then, there were the window fans and the attic fans. They kept the hot air circulating.
The window fans, of course, were installed in windows and they blew air from inside to outside, drawing in more hot air from the outside, don’t you see.
The attic fans worked on the same principle, by being installed in the ceiling and blowing air into the attic. I don’t remember either type providing much comfort on a 95 degree day in Louisiana.
However my friend Dr. Susan Dollar, history professor at NSU, has a fonder memory of attic fans. She contributed this memory:
“The best sleep I’ve ever had was in a house that had an attic fan on through the night. Of course Mom would admit that they always brought the dust and pollen in the house, but I never noticed that that was a problem, really.”
I do agree with Susan’s mom. Often my chore was to dust the living and dining rooms and the layers of dust that an attic or window fan could suck into the house was pretty amazing. I felt I could go out, buy some seeds and plant a crop right there on our dining room table.
Then, there were the ceiling fans, which have become popular again in recent years. Today, they provide a nice movement of air in our air conditioned homes. Back then, as I keep saying, they simply circulated hot air.
And finally, we had the little cardboard hand-held fans. If you waved those back and forth in front of your face fast enough, they did actually produce a small, cool breeze. But your arm would get tired long before it started to cool off a little bit in the evenings.
I remember being in high school and going out to play in September or May and returning to our un-air conditioned classrooms with the sweat just dripping off of our noses. And having to try to concentrate on algebra or trig!
And that’s why I just love air conditioning. There are even sociologists who say that the post World War II economic boom in the south (and the southwest) was made possible only because air conditioning made living in this area bearable in the summer. I don’t always agree with sociologists, but this time, my friends, I think they’ve got it exactly right.
Now please excuse me while I go turn down our thermostat a degree or so.