You’ll Never Believe How People in Arizona Lived Before Air Conditioning!
We're in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record. In fact, Phoenix, just broke records.
Most of America expects the desert southwest, especially Phoenix, Tucson, and Yuma, to be hot, but the recent record-breaking temperatures are proof the desert southwest is being a little extra this year.
Hot Enough for Ya?
Arizona in the Summer has long been an analog for 🔥HOT🔥 in the common vernacular, so the heat here in the Southwest is really no surprise. In modern times, we have some pretty nice ways to cope with the insane heat we experience here.
These days, air conditioning and fans keep us cool and make things livable. It's hard to imagine how the hearty folks who lived here sans A/C managed to keep cool.
But It's a Dry Heat
According to Wikipedia.org, Tucson was founded in 1775, a year before the Declaration of Independence was signed. Phoenix was settled around 1867, but many indigenous tribes lived in Arizona long before settlers got here.
In fact, artifacts from the Hohokam tribe date back at least 600 years. Humans have been in the heat long before air conditioning made this place a comfortable place to be.
That's a lot of time in the hot, dusty heat of Arizona. In fact, Tucson and most of Arizona didn't even have reliable electricity until around 1895. How did the inhabitants of Arizona keep cool before A/C? They lived very differently.
Staying Cool Before Air Conditioning in the Desert Southwest
I guess it's true, you don't know you're missing something if you've never had it. Before electric fans and A/C units were everywhere, staying cool started from the ground up. Many houses were built of adobe and straw.
The adobe helped the structure stay cool because it spreads heat. The downside, adobe takes a lot of maintenance, since it's basically clay and mud and tends to wash away in the rain and wind.
According to ArizonaOddities.com, people did a variety of things to help keep them cool every day. Cooking outside or later in the day helped keep the interior of houses cool. Buildings with high ceilings kept the heat up and away from people. Opening windows and doors to create a cross breeze helped keep the temperature down.
Sleeping in the Heat
Sleeping required some creativity, too. A lot of homes had screened-in sleeping porches, and a lot of people slept with wet sheets wrapped around them.
People would also hang wet sheets near windows and open doors. The night breezes moving through the wet sheets created something of an analog "evaporative cooler".
Bringing Ice in the Desert
Ice and other modern conveniences were expensive and hard to come by - not to mention difficult to keep icy in the desert heat. In fact, ice houses didn't even make their way to Phoenix until the late 1870s.
ArizonaOddities.com tells of one ingenious fellow named J. C. Adams who founded the Adams Hotel in Phoenix in 1895.
"[Adams] placed huge pans containing blocks of ice with an electric fan blowing over it." Adams also built a sleeping area on the roof of his hotel. Guests could sleep in the breezes of his rigged-up air conditioner.
The hotel guests maintained decorum during this sleeping arrangement. A large board divided the men from the women while they enjoyed the relative cool of Adams' makeshift air conditioner.
Today, nearly 75 percent of US homes have air conditioning and it's hard for many of us to even imagine living without it.
Tonight, whisper a little word of thanks to Willis Carrier, inventor of the modern air conditioner. The true hero who allows us to live comfortably in the scorching heat of the desert southwest!