Believe it or not, the first air conditioner was invented more than 100 years ago. In 1902, Willis Carrier created what is considered the first modern air conditioner system. Back then, however, it was created to help with quality control at a printing house, where a consistent temperature and humidity helped improve the printing process.
It wasn’t until the middle of the century when residential air conditioning started to become popular.
So that leaves, oh, only a few thousand years where humans lived in hot places without having the convenience of an air conditioner.
How did these people stay cool back then? While there’s no denying that nothing comes close to beating traditional air conditioning, there were quite a few techniques that people used 100 years ago (and in some instances much longer than that) to stay cool and survive the summer.
The good news is that these techniques can still be used today…
Whenever you find a house built in the first half of the 20th century, chances are it’s going to have a wide front porch or covered stoop. That’s because prior to air conditioning, it was common to simply spend more time outside in the evenings in order to cool off. As the sun heats up the house during the day, that heat could stick around for hours after the sun goes down.
Instead of sitting in the house and baking in the heat, folks would sit outside in the evening as the outside temperature began to dip. Of course, now that many homes have air conditioning there’s no real incentive to sit outside as it’s often cooler inside. Still, it helped people cool down decades ago.
How to do it today: Many houses still have the wide, covered areas to sit and relax as the sun goes down. If you don’t have one, there are small canopies that you can setup that offer a chance to sit outside, catch a breeze and relax in the shade.
Creating an Air Conditioner With Ice In Front of a Fan
Consider it the original air conditioner. Back before we simply flipped a thermostat to turn on the air, it was common to place a large block of ice in front of a fan. As the fan pushed air over the ice, it cooled, lowering the air temperature and making it more comfortable. It was said to be popular in movie theaters, where business owners would offer this “air conditioning” as a way to attract people to watch a movie during the hot months.
How to do it today: The same principles can be used today to cool things down. Simply grab some ice, put it in a container, and have a fan blow air over it. Considering that a bag of ice only costs a couple of bucks, it’s a cheap way to keep cool. Just keep in mind that the air blowing over the ice will be humid and depending on the temperature, the ice can melt pretty quick with a constant breeze from a fan.
Using Cross Breezes to Cool
Even when it’s hot, you’ll often find a breeze. Back before air conditioning many homes (especially larger homes with lots of open space around them) were built to take advantage of this. By placing a home where it can capture the breeze — and then placing more windows on the opposite side of the house — you can get a natural draft throughout the house. This is especially helpful in the evenings when the outside air has cooled, but hot air is trapped inside the house.
How to do it today: While you can’t re-orient your house to catch breezes, you can still open up windows to allow for cross-ventilation. Just be sure to open window on both sides of the house so that the air can move through freely, taking heat outside with it.
Whole House Fans
If you live in an older home then you might have a whole house fan. These fans are typically located in a central location and were more common before air conditioning became popular. Flip a switch and the large, powerful fan starts to pull the air from the house and vent it into the attic or outside. Whole house fans are a quick and efficient way to cool down a house when the outside air temperature is cooler than the temperature inside the home.
How to do it today: At least in the hotter climates of the south, attic fans aren’t near as common as they used to be. Still, if your home has one, then take full advantage. Be sure to wait until it’s cooler outside (such as early in the morning) and open windows to allow for ventilation into the home.
If you don’t have a whole house fan, you can still create a similar effect by placing a box fan in front of an open window to draw in cooler air.
Using Water to Cool Down
Even 100 years ago (and for millenia) using water has been one of the most popular ways to cool down. From finding a swimming hole to taking a shower, water is one of the most efficient ways to cool down from the heat. Water is a natural heatsink that draws heat out of the body with great efficiency. Plus, just like sweating, having the moisture on your skin also helps to cool you down. That’s why simply wiping down with a wet towel can cool you down.
How to do it today: Everyone can use these same techniques to stay cool. Finding a pool or simply grabbing a quick shower can easily cool you down. Beyond that, there are a number of other old-fashioned ways that water has been used for centuries to cool down. For instance, hanging a damp towel over an open window can make the breeze coming in the window feel cooler.
Take Advantage of Shade
In hot climates people have always placed a premium on shade. In addition to shaded areas of a house like covered porches, trees were planted — or built around — in order to provide cover to the home and its occupants. By blocking the sun, not only do you help to provide cover and cooler temperatures during the heat of the day, but you also don’t retain as much heat once the sun sets. After all, it can take hours for a hot house in the sun to cool down at night. During that time it can still be uncomfortably warm even if it’s actually cooled down outside.
How to do it today: Nothing much has changed with shade in the past 100 years — it’s still a popular way to keep cool. Thankfully if you don’t have large trees that throw off shade, you can get a canopy that sets up in minutes for less than $80. These canopies offer shade anywhere you need it.
Use Other People’s Air Conditioning
Before air conditioning was in homes, it was in many businesses. One popular place: the movie theater. Theaters famously provided air conditioned spaces (before they were commonplace) to help attract customers. If the heat simply go to be too much, people would go see a film and enjoy the cool air for a time.
How to do it today: If you don’t have air conditioning there are plenty of places that do and would love to have you as a customer. Movie theaters are still famously cold, but also shopping malls, museums and thousands of other places allow you to come in an chill out while you visit. If the heat gets to be too much, go take a visit and cool off.