I believe it was 1959 when my father had central air conditioning installed. Indiana summers are hot and sticky…sticky being the main memory. Air conditioning changed everything. Who wants to go out and play when it’s cool inside? Our family loved it. I didn’t think about the cold air duct blowing towards my parakeet and “Butch” keeled over the 2nd day of coolness.
Air conditioning stopped 30 years of Southern emigration to the north. Air conditioning started the Sun Belt Movement. When we had central AC installed there were around 500,000 people living on the Gulf Coast. Today there are over 20 million.
In 1960 people even stopped going to Major League Baseball games. Attendance stayed below the 1960 numbers for over 20 years. Staying cool all summer was new and wonderful.
The National Academy of Engineers rated the invention of Air Conditioning the 10th most important achievement of the 20th Century. Here is the Top Ten:
- Electrification 2) Automobile 3) Airplane 4) Water Supply and Distribution 5) Electronics 6) Radio and Television 7)Agriculture Mechanization 8) Computers 9) Telephone 10)Air Conditioning and Refrigeration
Yes, our summers were very different with air conditioning. I couldn’t imagine that in a few short years I would be running from a “cooled” house to a “cooled” car to a “cooled office” to a “cooled” restaurant and back through the circle.
I remember flying down to Houston to see how air conditioning changed our national culture. I walked into the incredible Houston Astrodome in 1967, two years after it opened. Suddenly the smell of cut grass, the feel of warm breezes and the sound of the crack of the bat had been transposed. Before me was a giant air-conditioned stadium with plastic grass and the baseball reverberating off the bat with a sound-chamber echo. Uggh. It’s finally gone. The new stadium has a retractable roof that is usually open.
Today we may find a few dozen kids at a splash park, but most are cooped up in the coolness with their video games and phones.
In 1961, Jane Jacobs immortalized the summer playgrounds that I remember. She wrote her vision of a Mid-century Greenwich Village park in the summer. Some of you will remember.
“This is the time of roller skates and stilts and tricycles, and games in the lee of the stoop with bottletops and plastic cowboys. They slop in puddles, write with chalk, jump rope, roller skate, shoot marbles, trot out their possessions, converse, trade cards, play stoop ball, walk stilts, decorate soap-box scooters, dismember old baby carriages, climb on railings, run up and down.”