The 50s brought us rock and roll, the photocopier, and the first credit cards, but there was one thing that was of vital importance to the residents of Las Vegas then and today. That was the invention of the air conditioner.
According to Las Vegas Weekly, the people endured triple digits in the 50s by primarily “putting up with it.” Let’s look at how the air conditioner we rely on so heavily today was just getting off the ground more than 60 years ago.
How to Stay Cool – 1950s Style
The 50s were an era of suits for men. At least women got to wear dresses! But back then everyone suffered equally.
Your food was cooled in iceboxes. A delivery guy would bring you a block of ice and you’d pop it in there. Kids would follow the ice guy around town begging for a sliver or two.
People also used desert coolers, which were boxes made of chicken wire and burlap. At the top of the box was a can with holes in the bottom. You’d fill the can and let the water seep into the burlap, cooling whatever was in the box.
Circulating fans were invented by then and in the 1950s they were available for residential use. But they were very expensive on a 1950s budget so very few people had them.
What we can’t imagine is sleeping in the Las Vegas heat. But we hear residents would take their mattresses outside and night and wet them down. Then they’d sleep on them as the cool evaporation seeped into the air.
DID YOU KNOW?
The air conditioner wasn’t even thought about until the 1840s; and it wasn’t invented until 1902 when Willis Carrier (as in furnace Carrier) took a job at a printing company. They tasked him with coming up with an efficient way to stop their paper from curling at the edges by reducing humidity. He did it by producing the air conditioner. By 1904, they were cooling buildings at the St. Louis World’s Fair, but these were giant coolers; it wasn’t until 1932 or so, that a smaller version that would fit into a window was created. By the 60s most new homes in warm climate areas had air conditioning.
Today, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says that 48% of a home’s energy usage comes from heating and cooling. If you’d like to read more about the history of the air conditioner, go to this Department of Energy link.