Odds are you’re settling in to read this article in a stuffy, artificially lit room with sealed windows that banish every wisp of outside air along with the faintest hint of fresh flowers, rain-heavy clouds, or moist earth. Ignoring Nature’s glories, you embrace instead the man-made wonders of regulated temperature, controlled humidity, and engineered breezes. It’s contrived and costly and downright unnatural. It’s air conditioning. Ain’t it great?
Arguably technology’s greatest gift to humankind, air conditioning made us cool. No wonder that adjective has meant “ultramodern” or “excellent” since the fifties, when the air conditioner moved from luxury to necessity. For Texans born before World War II, heat rash and sweat stains are no longer inescapable annoyances (and the iceman no longer cometh). For those of us in our forties or so, the arrival of AC looms large as a childhood memory. I remember the first evaporative cooler my parents bought, in the late fifties, and how my sisters and I would plant ourselves on the floor facing it until our cheeks went numb. (We also discovered that horny toads, the friendly little lizards we commandeered as day pets, became downright sluggish when imported into the cool house and would submit obligingly to being prettified with ribbons or ensconced in dolly beds for a round of horny-toad hospital.) Anyone on the fair side of forty likely has little memory of what it was like when Mother Nature controlled the thermostat. For those younger Texans, and for recent arrivals from more moderate climes, let’s fan through the life-before- AC files to revisit an era when “frigid” was mainly a sexual term and “weather stripping” meant shucking off your clothes for a dip.
First, the overview. Humans have always appreciated the value of keeping cool—and the difficulty. Whereas keeping warm was straightforward enough (just pile on the