June 14, 2022
Mr. Carrier did not invent modern air conditioning until 1902 but he was just another in a long line of inventors to seek relief from the summer heat. In some ways the success of Carrier’s invention has made us forget the often effective ways folks beat the heat. A few years ago, during a spike in summer temperatures, I was involved in a project in Chicago’s former meat packing district. The operations were spread between two buildings, a modern metal sided industrial crane building and a pre World War Two brick edifice. When the ambient hit triple digits it was impossible to keep working in the modern building but the old structure remained tolerable thanks to the very efficient system of vent windows over the peaked roof. The crane operator could turn cranks connected via rods and universal joints to open the windows and cause a noticeable vertical air flow without any external power source. One of the cable TV car restoration shows found an odd looking torpedo shaped object in the back seat of a car recovered from a desert salvage yard. It turned out to be an early 1950s “swamp cooler” that used water, a piece of fabric, and the forward motion of the car to cool the passenger compartment during cross country trips. The show restored the device and it worked fairly well. Plans for home built versions have shown up on line recently claiming great cooling at very low cost. Having been raised on 4/40 air conditioning, as in 4 open windows and 40 miles per hour, I remember my dad and uncles being upset with the disappearance of vent windows on new cars in the late 1960s. When air conditioning became expected on cars the vent windows were an easy cost saving target. None of the guys who vowed to never buy a car without vent windows followed through. Sometimes the new way of doing things makes the old way look silly.