Woman sitting on the floor by a fan to stay cool.

Before Willis Haviland Carrier invented air conditioning in 1902, people had to be creative about how they stayed cool. While nowadays it’s easier for most people to invest in air conditioning, we thought it would be fun to look at five ways people used to beat the heat.

1. Changing the Time of Your Chores

Woman cleaning her house.

For those who regularly experience hot weather, delaying chores until the late evening or early morning is the best course of action. The sun is at its highest point around noon, which is when it will be the warmest since the sun’s rays are shining down on the earth. In the 18th and 19th centuries, many people began their workdays earlier to beat the harsh heat.

While completing chores and doing housework, people wore lightweight, flowy clothing to ensure that they stayed cool. Garments that were too tight or layered would only increase the heat. They could also keep out the sun by blocking the windows or closing the shutters.

2. Using Blocks of Ice (and Fans)

People often used blocks of ice in combination with electric fans to circulate cool air. For example, Charles Crocker and Schuyler Wheeler built the Crocker-Wheeler electric fan in 1892. The fan sent air passing over an ice block that would rest in a bucket, not to leave a puddle as it began to melt. As the ice melted, the air would chill and circulate around the room. This process was a relatively inexpensive way to provide cool air without the use of an air conditioner. People also used fans on their own to circulate air as well, and they weren’t always the traditional fan we know today.

Crocker-Wheeler Electric Fan

Photo Courtesy of René Rondeau’s Antique Phonograph and Photography Site.

In 1786, the fan chair was invented by John Cram and presented to the American Philosophical Society. Essentially, the invention was a typical rocking chair attached to a fan. A device at the foot of the chair would operate the fan as the user rocked back and forth.

Another famous invention was the punkah, a hand-operated ceiling fan that originated in India. While a punkah could be self-operated, many wealthy individuals had servants dedicated to keeping the fan going at all times. The Punkah Project, composed of researchers tracking the history of punkahs, has stated that punkahs were “part decorative art, part architectural element, and part utilitarian device.”

3. Drinking Buttermilk

As the name implies, buttermilk is a dairy-based drink that contains a mix of milk and butter. Its probiotic properties work to counter acidity and cool down the stomach as acid contributes to heartburn and hot flashes. Buttermilk is also full of electrolytes which aid in hydration. In India, where the drink is most popular and often combined with yogurt and various spices, Buttermilk is called masala chaas (spiced buttermilk).

However, today’s version of buttermilk is far different from what people consumed before the mid-20th century, and sometimes, they even mixed the drink with soda. In an interview with the Quad-City Times, Marcia Swingle, demonstrator of 19th-century buttermaking at the Genesee Country Village & Museum, said that “true buttermilk is often called sweet cream buttermilk because it is made with fresh cream. Today, buttermilk is regular milk that has added cultures to give it a unique tangy flavor and thickness.”

4. Living in Dogtrot Houses

Modern dogtrot home.

Photo Courtesy of Helen Norman.

Dogtrot houses, also known as breezeway homes, were one-story wooden homes built with a hollow center in the middle and raised a foot or two off of the ground. These homes typically had numerous windows and isolated the cooking and eating areas from the bedrooms to minimize the amount of heat created and spread throughout the home. Realtor states that dogtrot houses were often found in “Appalachian states like Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Carolinas in the 19th and 20th centuries.”

5. Investing in Awnings and Porches

To keep cool while spending time outside, many people invested in inserting awnings over every window, as well as over their porches. Awnings assisted in shading porch-goers from the sun’s direct light while also keeping the sunlight from shining directly inside the home. Some awning colors were more effective than others, given that darker colors absorb more light and convert it to heat.

Awnings over house windows.

During this time, people also used sleeping porches to get out of the heat. As a deck or balcony enclosed by screen windows, sleeping porches were perfect for air circulation purposes during warm weather. Typically, sleeping porches were attached to a corner of a second or third-story bedroom or even on the ground floor of a farmhouse.

Staying Cool with Hoffner

At the end of the day, getting AC installed is probably your best bet. Whether you require assistance installing an air conditioner or need help optimizing your current system, Hoffner Heating and Air Conditioning is here to help. Visit our contact page or call us today at 412-376-9080.