While sweltering through a Florida summer, you might have wondered how people managed to survive before air conditioning was invented. After all, John Gorrie, a doctor from Apalachicola, might have invented air conditioning in 1851 with his steam-powered ice machine, but it was not until 1902, when Willis Haviland Carrier invented a refrigeration unit, that the age of air conditioning was born. It’s hard to believe now that prior to this invention, people found ways to live in the sunshine state or similarly humid places. But for hundreds of years, they did exactly that. Here’s how:
Homes Were Built Differently
The invention of the air conditioner radically changed the way people built buildings, especially in the south. The way houses were built in the old days were a lot better for hot summers. You may still notice how older buildings will frequently have higher ceilings — this allowed heat to rise so that inhabitants could enjoy the cooler space below. The typical height of a ceiling now is around 8 feet but in the past, it could be 12 feet or more.
Florida homes were also designed to take full advantage of natural airflow. Many older houses have a large hallway both upstairs and downstairs with a door on both ends to let the air pass through it. In addition to this, rooms were designed with windows on opposite sides of the space, allowing for cross ventilation. Rooms could also be arranged in rows so as to allow for a breeze.
Homes had large windows and rooms cooled with fans. It may come as a surprise but electric fans were invented in 1882 and even ceiling fans could be found by 1900. Also, up in the attic, a fan could be installed that would move and disperse hot air through a window vent.
Many houses were built of wood and raised off the ground to allow room for air to circulate under the house. This space under the house was generally shaded and breezy, so it also provided an extra space away from the heat. Deep eaves and wide wrap-around porches protected windows from the heat of the sun. Trees were planted on the east and west sides of a house for extra shade during the hot summer months.
People Went Outside
These days, when it’s hot, people move inside, but in the past, it was the opposite. In the past, and even still to this day, porches were important for providing a shaded space where people could sit outside and out of the glare of the sun and perhaps enjoy a breeze. Temperatures in- and outdoors were more or less the same, but the porch was much less stuffy than the rest of the house. It is likely to be cooler out on the porch with a nice breeze rather than inside where the rooms may not have enough airflow. Some older houses were also built with sleeping porches, which were screened-in porches where one could sleep during the summer, enjoying the breezes while being protected from bugs.
The Siesta Lifestyle
Another way to cope with the heat of the sun is by changing your schedule. In a hot climate, it can make more sense to have a nap during the hottest hours of the day, going back to work later in the afternoon, and then using the evening hours for leisure activities.
Dressing for the Heat
In the past clothing was made from natural fibers like linen and cotton which tends to be far better in hot climates than modern synthetics. If you wear synthetics, you will feel the heat than you would in a fabric that breathes. For example, before air conditioning became widespread in America, men also used to adapt their clothing to the summer heat: switching to straw boaters, seersucker suits, and linen in the summer.
Going to the Movies
After the invention of the air conditioner, they remained expensive and consequently out of the reach of most people for many years. So finding and visiting businesses that had installed air conditioning became a thing to do, in itself. In fact, you could partially credit this for the rise of the summer blockbuster as movie theaters were among the first businesses to adopt the technology.
People found many other ways to cool down such as hanging wet laundry in doorways so the air was cooled as it blew through them. A wet cloth wrapped around the head or neck would sometimes help to cool off, something we still do when we’re working outside or even going to Disney.
It took a different way of living and working to survive in Florida before the widespread use of air conditioning. In fact, many homes built during this period still exist, and they even retain some advantages in today’s world in terms of being less expensive to cool. About 86 percent of homes in Florida today have some type of air conditioning and most of us are glad to have it: especially when it gets into the upper 90s. Had it not been for the invention of air conditioning, Florida might have remained a hot and humid peninsula, populated by only the hardiest of individuals. But if you find your home making a return to the terrible heat and stuffiness of yesteryear’s Florida, have a specialist from Bob Heinmiller in Orlando make sure that your AC is up to spec, before the heat really kicks in.