Long, hot summers and Mr. Carrier#039;s invention

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I grew up in a farmhouse constructed in 1939. It had big rooms, lots of windows and, like most homes of the period, no air conditioning other than what was offered by oscillating fans and occasional breezes through the windows.

Grandpa Killough did a smart thing when he had that house built: he had an attic fan installed to draw some of that hot and heavy Alabama air from the rooms below. It was amazing how much that old fan could cool things off, especially at night.

Between the ceiling fans eventually mounted throughout the house and the shade provided by several tall trees surrounding it, my sisters and I managed to grow up in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s without that great invention of gentleman named Mr. Carrier - the air conditioner.

We waved hand fans from the funeral parlor in the old church, traveled in un-air-conditioned cars and on buses that took us to classrooms singularly lacking in cooling.  We've all survived into our ‘40s and ‘50s, seemingly none the worse for wear.

Would we want to go back to those hot and sticky un-cooled days?  I think not.

 Sometimes, we have to, whether we want to or not.

The air conditioning on our heat pump at home decided to start imitating certain statehouse politicians last week. It will blow nothing but hot air and plenty of it.

Since then, hubby and I have relied on fans, lots of iced water and tea and limited clothing. We retreat to that old farmhouse down the road in order to sleep in something less than 97-degree heat every night (That's what we get for living on a hill with no trees close by: great in a flood, not so great in an August heat wave.)

All this heat has got me thinking an awful lot about Willis Haviland Carrier.

In case you don't know, he's the brilliant young engineer who created a method to cool a Brooklyn printing plant way back in 1902. The heat and humidity were playing havoc with the printer's work, causing colors to misalign and leading to a mucky mess. Carrier's new system kept the air inside the plant stable - and made that printer a very happy man.

For years, Carrier's grand invention was only used in industrial settings.

By the mid-1920s, however, a Detroit department store offered air-conditioned comfort and shoppers flocked the cool interior. Soon, more stores were being cooled with Carrier's machines.

When movie theatres begin to promise air-conditioned comfort during sultry summer months - business skyrocketed.

Mr. Carrier went on in 1928 to develop the &#8220Weathermaker,” the first air conditioner for home use. What with the Great Depression and WW II, everything slowed down. Once the war years were behind us, sales began to rise again.

Daddy bought a window unit for Mama when she pregnant with yours truly, due in late September 1960 and facing what would be one of the hottest summers on record.

Every so often as a child, I would go in that front bedroom/den, turn the unit on, close the doors and luxuriate in that refrigerated joy. Cold-natured Daddy always put an end to that.

&#8220It'll make you sick, going from cool to hot,” he grumbled.

He had a point – but the icy flow sure felt good while it lasted. Eventually the A/C was given or thrown away, I don't remember which.

A bit of frigid air returned to the farmhouse when, a few years back, Benny and I purchased an air conditioner to cool my parent's back bedroom. Mom was going to be recovering from an injury and subsequent surgery through a long, hot summer.

Now, the two of us and the three cats are reaping the benefits of that purchase. 

As I prepare to abandon the sweaty &#8220ship” on the hill and head down to the relative cool of the farmhouse this Sunday night, here are some things I am thankful for:

*That my mom is in a nice, comfortable air-conditioned room at Pine Needle Place where she doesn't have to deal with the heat, the stickiness and the bugs. She's already done enough of that in her 82 years.

*That my grandfather was smart enough to put that attic fan in; almost 70 years later, it's still puttin' along.

*That Mr. Carrier created the first truly safe and reliable air conditioner.

Call me a wimp, a Mama's girl; call me spoiled. Sting wanted his MTV. I want my A/C.

Lifestyles reporter Angie Long can reaced at 334-382-3111 or via email at editor@greenvilleadvocate.com.