View Mobile Site

Give me air!!

Posted: September 18, 2014 10:03 a.m.
Updated: September 19, 2014 6:00 a.m.

Hot, hot, hot! We’re on the second day of 99 degrees-plus-the-heat-index weather. I’m on my wide front porch on the shady side of the house with a woven Palmetto frond fan in my hand. Back and forth, waving steadily. It helps a little -- fanning my sweat glistened cheeks and neck. The ladies a century ago would have said they were “glowing.” They used these fans too -- in fact my older friend bought dozens of them for her daughter’s summer wedding at Salem Black River Presbyterian years ago -- before they put in air conditioning. She gave me this one as she explained why she had so many. She said they used them at Salem Black River all summer except in August, when they did not have church services. I exclaimed, “What did you do without church on Sunday?” She calmly replied, “We thanked God!”

Well, you may have guessed -- my air conditioner stopped conditioning. Air is blowing, but no cool. He is coming to fix it tomorrow. But for now it’s the front porch on the shady side of the house. What a softie I have become. I grew up on James Island without air conditioning. My whole childhood was spent without any summer cool except the sea breeze, electric fans, and the almost daily afternoon thunderstorm. In my senior year of high school we moved to a new house -- with central heat and air. Life was never the same!

The idea of “mechanical cooling” surfaced in 1888 for use in manufacturing. Cool air kept freshly baked bread from molding, chocolate from turning gray, and made pasta keep its shape. Cotton threads did not snap as often on looms when in conditioned air. Imagine the effect it had on workers in large factories -- more production. The new moving picture theaters adopted conditioned air in the early 1900s. Here in Camden, T. Lee Little completed the first thoroughly modern movie theater, The Majestic, in 1915. It seated 300 people and advertised a “cool air ventilating system,” likely the first air conditioning in Camden.

The first “air conditioner” as we know it was designed and built by Willis Haviland Carrier in 1902. He had just graduated from Cornell University with a Masters in Engineering. His first system was designed for a printing plant where fluctuations in temperature and humidity made the paper shrink and expand. The paper fluctuations disrupted the print alignment when using four color printing. His invention enabled us to have stable four-color printing and many other things he could not have envisioned at that time! He is known as the “Father of Air Conditioning.” Carrier presented the “Rational Psychometric Formulae” to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1911 and this formula remains as the basis for calculations in the air conditioning industry. He continued to improve his commercial systems as he and six engineers founded the Carrier Engineering Corporation in 1915. In 1928 he produced the first “Weathermaker,” a unit for domestic use.

After World War II, air conditioning became widespread in the workplace. Air conditioning allowed drastic changes in architectural design of office buildings. We did not need windows that opened, thus the “modern” design of steel and glass buildings became all the rage. Air conditioning and its effect on our built environment was certainly one of the reasons for the advent of the historic preservation movement in America. Our desire for “modern” doomed many of the older structures, as they were razed to make way for the new American cityscape -- with air conditioning. The widespread use of air conditioning allowed habitation in the steamy hot Southern summers to become tolerable. Air conditioning changed our demographics as more and more people moved to the sunny South and Southwest.

American domestic architecture and life changed in the 1950s and 1960s, in part due to the availability of air conditioning. As I sit on the front porch of my 1912 house, I have a direct line of sight through everyone’s large front porches on either side of me. In this circa 1910 neighborhood, the houses were all built on the front part of the long deep lots. The architecture varies from Victorian forms to Craftsman style and everything in between. The constant exterior feature is a commodious front porch. Inside, the houses have tall ceilings, transom windows above doors, and many tall, wide windows -- to allow air to circulate within. A short distance down W. Calhoun Street is a 1950s neighborhood with typical small ranch style houses from that era. Nary a front porch to be seen, merely front stoops at the entry to the house. Air conditioning changed our social interactions. After the advent of domestic air conditioning, we closed ourselves in the artificial environment and did not have to re-emerge to catch the cooler evening air and chat with our neighbors. So who needed a front porch?!

Old neighborhoods charm us because the architecture is unique -- no “cookie cutter” houses. Take a stroll down Lyttleton Street and note our old Camden architecture. The front porches say “welcome, come sit awhile -- come on inside!” We are proud of our communities’ historic homes, even if we don’t own one. But if we happen to be the happy home owner of an historic house, in this day and age we have the best of both worlds. We have a front porch to sit on in the evenings -- and air conditioning inside! Except at my house right now! Thank heavens for the ceiling fans -- and the Palmetto fan from Salem Black River Presbyterian!


Commenting not available.
Commenting is not available.

Contents of this site are © Copyright 2018 Chronicle Independent All rights reserved. Privacy policy and Terms of service

Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...