Heat Wave: How Our Grandparents Stayed Cool

Heat Wave, how our grandparents stayed coolHave you ever wondered how people stayed cool during a heat wave before air conditioning? While air conditioning was invented in the early 1900s, most people couldn’t afford to have one in their home until well after WWII. So, what did people do to stay cool when temperatures rose during a heat wave?

Below are a few tips my clients have recounted about how they stayed cool when they were younger:

~ Staying Cool Before Air Conditioning ~

  • To start, many houses were designed┬áto keep occupants cool in summer. Wide eves and deep porchases were built to provide shade and catch breezes while high ceilings and attics allowed for hot air to rise. Double doors were used to trap heat in entryways and floor tile to cool the air. And while stone and brick houses did a better job retaining cool temperatures, wood houses were often painted white to deflect the sun’s heat. Windows were strategically situated to allow for cross ventilation when open while white (again) curtains helped keep the sun out. When possible, trees were planted on the South and West sides of a house to provide shade.
  • Curtains, bedding and even furniture coverings were changed with the seasons. Lighter fabrics in the summer and heavier fabrics in the winter. Rugs were often rolled and put into storage as floors were cooler without.
  • At night, people often stayed cool by sleeping on porches, fire escapes, in basements or would head to a nearby park or beach.
  • During the day, children cooled down by playing in open fire hydrants, public pools or at the local watering hole.
  • Movie theaters were popular when owners realized air conditioning was as big a draw as the movie itself on hot summer days.
  • For a special treat during a heat wave, families headed to the shore or the mountains.
  • Clothing, unlike today’s synthetic fibers, was made of cotton and natural fibers which allowed the body breath, helping it stay cool.

A Few more tips…

As a long distance runner, I often find myself overheating on hot summer days and have learned a thing or two about how to stay cool:

  • Wear white or light colors to deflect the sun’s heat, rather than dark – which absorbs heat
  • Freeze a bottle of water (open the cap and fill only 3/4 full as it expands) and carry it with you.
  • Run your hands under cold water for a few moments.
  • Splash cold water on you legs, arms, neck, face and particularly on the top of your head as often as possible
  • Wear a light colored hat if you have dark hair and need to be in the sun. I’ve found wetting my hat every couple miles does wonders for keeping me cool.

Looking for more ideas? Ask your parents or grandparents to recount what life was like before air conditioning. Send them in and I’ll post for others to enjoy!

1 thought on “Heat Wave: How Our Grandparents Stayed Cool”

  1. I do remember sleeping outside, but I also recall as a small child, my grandmother hanging a wet sheet in front of an open window at night.


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