What Did People Do Before Air Conditioning?

If you live in a region with a hot climate or one that experiences hot summers, you’re probably very glad when you can escape to cooler temperatures within your own home. Having a cool house allows us to be comfortable throughout the day and night and escape the daytime heat. In some areas, staying cool is even necessary for survival, especially during dangerous heat waves.

However, air conditioning and other modern cooling methods are relatively new. While air conditioning was invented in 1902, AC systems were too big and expensive for most households. Even by the 1960s, only 10% of U.S. homes had AC. So how did people stay cool before air conditioning?

Made Good Use of Windows
Windows are surprisingly efficient at controlling indoor temperatures if they’re used right. When indoor temperatures exceed outdoor temperatures, windows can be opened to exhaust the heat.

Opening windows on opposite sides of the home can provide a breeze via cross-ventilation.

Another thing people used to do before air conditioning was keep the windows shut during the hottest time of the day. Closing windows around midday would keep the hotter outside air from mixing with the cooler indoor air.

Also, keeping windows open at night when temperatures drop is another great way people used to stay cool. Doing so allows the cool night air to sweep out the hot daytime air and cool the actual bones of the house while providing people with a cool nighttime breeze.

Timing Chores
Chores that generate heat like baking and cooking were done during the early morning and at night. Also, drying machines (which can give off a lot of heat) weren’t used, instead, clothes were hung up outside to dry.

Blew Fans Across Blocks of Ice
A funny but surprisingly effective method to stay cool, a sort of primitive AC, was blowing a fan across blocks of ice. As the ice cools air that comes into contact with it, blowing a fan across it could provide people with a very cool breeze similar to AC.

Fans were used to stay cool. This includes ceiling fans, standing fans, and even hand fans that could be used to blow air on the face. However, this last method requires energy and may actually warm you up!

Taking a swim, a cold bath, or simply running through the garden hose was a popular way for people of all ages to escape the summer heat.

Whole House Fans
Whole house fans, like AC, were invented in the early 1900s. However, they became popular before AC did as they were an affordable and effective option for any household.

Today, whole house fans are returning to fashion as people look for more energy-efficient ways to cool their homes in the face of rising utility costs and climate change. Browse our collection of whole house fans here.