A Look at Our Love Affair With Air-Conditioning
by Sam Roberts | NYT Bookshelf
SEPT. 19, 2014
With summer just about officially over, we can dispassionately explore what the world was like a little more than a century ago, before Willis Carrier installed his “apparatus for treating air” in a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, printing plant.
“I live in New York, a city that doesn’t exist without air-conditioning,” Salvatore Basile writes in “Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything” (Fordham University Press).
To Americans, New York is a Northern city, but in his breezily anecdotal book, Mr. Basile reminds readers that we practically share a latitude with Madrid, if not the siestas. The heat could be brutal, particularly when 5,000 ceiling fans, while the largest such installation in the world, were all that cooled the city’s subway cars.
Air-conditioning was not just about comfort.
It triggered a cultural and demographic revolution.
It made windowless offices, work and retail spaces and entertainment venues possible (and also permitted the introduction of heat-generating computers).
It also diminished street life.
And beyond New York, it made living in the Sun Belt bearable, shifting not only jobs and population there, but also political power.