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How Air Conditioning Shaped America

By Creighton Smith

For better or worse, the technological revolution of the past two centuries has played an undeniably substantial role in molding the modern world, with America more or less at the forefront of said revolution. 

When we think of advancements in technologies that have changed the way Americans live their lives, the most readily apparent examples are things like cars, computers, phones, airplanes, assembly line factories, etc. A less obvious example is air conditioning. 

Believe it or not, the advent and eventual popularization of air conditioning has drastically impacted the development of our nation in more ways than one. Here are just 5 examples of how AC shaped America and helped make the good ole’ US of A what it is today. 

1. Developing Cities 

Before air conditioning came along, the size, scale and very existence of many of America’s biggest southern metropolises would have been inconceivable solely due to their excessively hot temperatures. Without AC, economic and cultural hubs like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Atlanta and many more would not be what they are today. 

However, along with the popularization of AC units in American homes during the housing boom that followed WWII, all of these southern cities experienced subsequent population booms throughout the second half of the 20th century. 

Additionally, thanks to air conditioned buildings and factories, industry is able to thrive in these locations year round. It is also not hard to imagine that tourism was boosted as a result of AC, as it gives folks the ability to enjoy the unseasonably hot climates without being stuck in them. 

2. Developing Industries

As mentioned above, air conditioning has allowed many an industry to thrive in America, so it’s only fitting that the revolutionary invention was first conceptualized by a publishing press employee named Willis Carrier who was looking for ways to cool down his factory in order to keep the ink from running and the paper from wrinkling. 

After Carrier’s new invention boosted production at his publishing press, it didn’t take long for industrial air conditioners to become essential hardware in factories, buildings and hospitals across the nation, without which these institutions would be unable to function productively. 

While most early industrial air conditioning systems were installed for the sake of the products being made within, the machines also made their environments more suitable for workers putting in long hours on hot days, which further increased productivity in American factories and businesses. 

It is likely that Ford’s moving assembly lines would have never been able to function as efficiently were it not for air conditioning. Additionally, the cutting edge of medical science and technological discovery would be nowhere near where it is today without the crucial benefits of indoor climate control (for more on this topic check out “3 Ways HVAC Saves Lives”).

3. Developing Culture

As if shaping our nation’s geography and economy wasn’t enough, air conditioning has also played a large role in the development of American culture, both popular and domestic. 

During the Depression, US movie theaters were one of the first and only public spaces to invest in AC at the time. This investment paid off, as the American public flocked to theaters for cheap entertainment and a cool escape during hot months, inspiring the term summer blockbuster

The resulting rise in movie theater attendance coincided with the dawn of Hollywood’s Golden Age and the studio star system it created. Without AC, Hollywood wouldn’t be the industry or the pop culture powerhouse that it is today. 

A few decades after the depression in post WWII America, an upsurge of home AC systems helped manifest yet another cultural phenomenon, bringing American families inside the home more so than ever before. 

The rise in home AC systems during this period coincided with another new technology that would change the way Americans and their families lived – the television. With the comfort of AC and the home entertainment provided by television, a new age of familial bonding emerged in the form of the living room culture. 

While today we realize that spending all of our time indoors watching TV and enjoying the AC is not ideal, we owe much of what our culture is today to the simultaneous popularization of these two inventions.

So, in addition to making the population significantly less sweaty, air conditioning has helped to build our nation’s infrastructure, drive our industries and define American culture. It is safe to say that America as we know it would not be the same without AC! 

Thanks so much for reading this week’s article! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our blog for more interesting HVAC info and helpful homeownership tips. 

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