Blog12 July 2016

How did people stay cool before air conditioning was invented?

With summer now upon us and air conditioning enquiries beginning to peak, it has led us to wonder how your average citizen kept cool before practical technology was available to the masses.

More than a century ago, Willis Carrier stumbled across the invention of modern air conditioning when he endeavoured to solve a production problem at his printing company in New York. The concept of comfort cooling was therefore discovered accidentally but is now an essential feature of virtually all new buildings.

But how did people combat the heat before the twentieth century? Well, there were lots of ways, actually. Most of them basic; all were effective. We take a look at Accuweather’s recent article on the issue and analyse the various techniques society have adopted to overcome high temperatures.

According to Meteorologist Brian Lada, it was fairly common for people in the 1800s to utilise water fountains for cooling purposes, in addition to their primary function – drinking! Far from being the small, controllable wellheads you see today, fountains back then were no more than large troughs that accommodated the seemingly strange need for people to submerge their heads beneath their water!

Today, it’s hardly unheard of for roasting Londoners to climb into the Trafalgar Square fountains for the same reason; particularly during moments of celebration. If it’s hot outside, and there’s a water source nearby, you’re likely to find someone using it!

credit: Leonard Bentley

The winter months of yesteryear would see individuals harvest and store ice sourced from frozen lakes inside naturally cool buildings – known as ice houses – where they would sit before distribution. This straightforward concept was made difficult by the lack of refrigeration equipment available, and was not always a dependable solution because of seasonal variability. However, this measure would prove fruitful if the winter was particularly harsh.

Prior to being replaced by modern wholesalers, these applications were also fairly prevalent on these shores – perhaps most notably the once-famous Hastings Ice House. Built by the Hastings and St. Leonard’s Ice and Cold Storage Company at the end of the 19th century, this iconic facility was one of dozens in the UK that would provide slabs of ice to locals in need.

Lada also suggests that high pre-war architects quickly learnt that hot indoor conditions were exacerbated if there was little room for air to circulate. As hot air naturally gravitates upwards, it quickly became common for newly-erected structures to have high ceilings. This allowed rising air to escape through windows positioned near said ceilings, creating a natural airflow.

Victorian houses certainly followed this trend, and the average dwelling from that era had ceilings of at least ten feet high. Office ceilings were often even taller – up to fifteen feet – but as cost started becoming an issue these were gradually downgraded to the approximate eight feet ceilings typically seen today.

Perhaps the most longstanding method of cooling down, though, is the tendency for people to use the shade of trees as a buffer against extreme warmth. When temperatures exceed a certain level, you can almost guarantee nearby parks and open spaces will be besieged by uncomfortable people desperately seeking solace. It’s an age-old strategy!

On any given summer you will find London residents, tourists and even workers relaxing in cooler areas screened by the Hyde Park foliage – an ever popular outlet for those who find the heat too much. And while there are undoubtedly some more advanced alternatives available in the present day, it would appear members of the public are still open to adopting some rather old-fashioned ways of countering hot weather!

credit: John Krupsky

Can you think of any others? Inform us of your preferred manner by which you survive escalating temperatures by tweeting @AndrewsSykes!

Although the above practices have all served a purpose at one time another, we at Andrews Air Conditioning can offer civilisation with some slightly more advanced alternatives!

From large industrial applications and healthcare facilities to IT suits and office floors, our clients rely on us to provide revolutionary cooling systems for their particular environment. If you’d like to upgrade an obsolete air conditioning unit, or for free technical advice on how best to protect your assets during summer, call us today on 0800 211 611.