It is tempting to look at air conditioning in the and start moralizing about how it changed our culture from one that slowed down in the summer to one that runs from the air conditioned workplace to the air conditioned car to the air conditioned house … or that we didn’t know how uncomfortable we were before a/c was widely available. People did know how uncomfortable they were. That’s what drove the a/c market, especially when unit price came down.

Air conditioning also helped factories stay open during the summer, increased their productivity, and drove consumers to shop in comfortable, enclosed malls — things we tend to take for granted now, but which nevertheless had a major impact on our economy and the way we live.

“Considerable consumer interest in purchasing an air conditioner this year was disclosed by replies to the annual questionnaire sent to subscribers by Consumers Union,” stated a News article from May 2, 1960.

“In reporting highlights from its latest survey in the April issue of Consumer Reports, the non-profit organization said that 27% of those replying say they are planning to buy an air conditioner.”

In that same issue, “Existence of a ‘considerable demand’ for air conditioning was turned up by a Wall Street Journal survey of more than 300 middle-income consumers in 15 U.S. cities.

“The newspaper said, in part, ‘Considerable demand also exists for some appliances, particularly air conditioning, which was mentioned most often to reporters, probably because the current month [April] marks the beginning of the peak selling season for this appliance.”

Who was doing the buying?

A 1960 market study released by U.S. News and World Report disclosed that “of the 1.7 million families who bought air conditioning in the past 12 months, either individual units or central systems, better than nine out of 10 had incomes of $5,000 or more.

“The air conditioning market is a family market, it was found. Nine out of 10 owners and buyers are married. Three our of five have children, and they average two children.”

Builders Catch On

With that kind of market potential, it’s not surprising that builders across the U.S. — North, South, East, and West — began to offer it in their new homes.

In the June 20, 1960 issue, George Hanning wrote that “For the first time in Michigan, air conditioning is being offered as standard equipment in a subdivision house priced at less than $15,000, claims Robert Gutterman, president of Whittier Homes, Detroit.

“Gutterman is currently building a 104-home subdivision on Ann Arbor’s south side, offering one 950-sq-ft model, complete with air conditioning, at $14,900. A 1,000-sq-ft model is offered at $15,900. Price remains the same whether or not the customer wants air conditioning.

“The homes are being air conditioned with Fedders ‘Flexher-metic’ 2-hp units by King Cole Heating & Cooling Co., Detroit. Fedders furnaces are also used. Al Keats, president of King Cole, pointed out that the low price was made possible because he is able to offer the builder combined heating and cooling for less than ever attainable before.”

The Aug. 8, 1960 issue reported that “Year-round air conditioning, via a heat pump, is being offered by Timmons Homes here in a two-bedroom home that sells for $11,950, including the lot,” in Clearwater, FL.

“This is said to be made possible by close cooperation between builder and air conditioning contractor combined with detailed planning and building ‘know-how.’ And it’s reportedly accomplished by specifically designing and building homes to accommodate American-Standard heat pumps.” The contractor was Banner Heating and Air Conditioning, Largo, FL.

That summer, women were recognized as decision makers among air conditioning buyers — sort of. “Housewives may drag their feet about buying air conditioning the first time, but once they get the taste, they love it,” wrote The News.

“Testimonials reported by the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution bear witness to this fact.

“In Louisville [KY], where it is estimated that 14 out of every 100 homes has air conditioning, Mrs. Richard Haas told the Courier-Journal, ‘Nothing beats [air conditioning] for frayed tempers and ragged afternoon nerves on really hot days.’”

Comfort cooling was also making inroads into the multifamily housing market. The July 11 News reported that “A 250-ton Carrier absorption chiller has been installed in the new 19-story Wedgewood House at Fifth Ave. and 14th St. here [Manhattan, NY].

“The 154-apartment structure is termed ‘one of the largest new residential buildings to use central air conditioning and the first apartment house in Manhattan to use absorption equipment in this manner,’ according to Carrier.

“Chilled water from the absorption unit and warm water heated by steam from Consolidated Edison mains will be circulated to 325 fancoil Weathermaker units. The under-window units will provide room-by-room control for tenants, the company said.”

The lure of air conditioning was also spreading to the commercial-industrial markets, offering comfort to businesspeople and factory workers alike.

Commercial Designs

At least one early electronics manufacturing firm found that workers in an air conditioned environment made fewer errors. In North Haven, CT, “A small electronics firm here is air conditioning its entire production space to cut down on time spent correcting errors,” reported the Aug.8, 1960News.

“Technical Measurement Corp. discovered that hot weather increased the number of errors made by its 50 women production workers. An error in one of the 80,000 soldered joints in a digital computer could cost two weeks of expensive engineering time to correct, said Robert M. Ghen, 30-year-old president of the young firm.

“Technical Measurement makes a versatile digital computer which serves any of a number of functions when outfitted with plug-ins. The basic instrument is completely transistorized and weights only 27 lbs (down from an initial 3,000 lbs in a tube-equipped version). It sells for $17,000 — a figure that grows substantially when plug-in attachments costing from $2,000 to $6,000 each are attached.”

Air conditioning also made great strides in the health care market. From the Nov. 28, 1960 News: “Two boilers for the giant gas air conditioning system of St. Eliz-abeth Hospital [Beaumont, TX] completed their rail trip here from Illinois and have been installed, according to United Gas Corp.

“Upon arrival, the two 30-ton boilers were transported across the city by truck to the hospital site and then hoisted to an opening left in the roof of a one-story section of the hospital, where they were lowered to their resting place in the basement.

“Several ‘firsts’ for Beaumont are involved in the project. With an 820-ton cooling capacity, the system is claimed to be not only the largest gas-operating air conditioning installation, but the largest of any kind in Beaumont. The hoist is believed to involve the two heaviest single lifts ever handled in commercial construction here.

“Steam from the gas boilers will be utilized to operated both the heating and cooling components of the air conditioning system. The steam will also be used for a number of other purposes in the hospital, including preparing the large quantities of hot water needed for laundry and cooking.”

Bankers, too, realized the virtues of air conditioning. The Feb. 10, 1964 News reported that “The total modernizing of the Citizens Savings & Loan building here [Santa Barbara, CA] required an air conditioning-heating system that would allow for several built-in features unique to the ornate building.

“So the architect, Wallace W. Arendt, and the air conditioning contractor, Mainland Heating & Air Conditioning, decided on the use of six Lennox CHP-5 Series heat pumps for a six-zone design.

“‘The final decision was to install two 5-ton, two 4-ton, and two 3-ton heat pumps on the flat portion of the roof,’ said system designers. ‘Four units serving the main area were connected to a common return air system and the two units serving the two-story unrelated wing had individual return air systems”

And keeping customers cool meant higher sales for another icon in American culture, the shopping mall. In Phoenix, AZ, “Almost all of the air conditioning equipment, nearly 2,000 tons of it, in Arizona’s newest and largest shopping center is being installed by one air conditioning contractor — Johnson Bros., Inc.,” wrote Hanning in 1964.

“Thomas Mall, which opened for business in September but which is still unfinished, covers 675,000 sq ft of floor space, features a 1,140-ft-long enclosed air conditioned mall, and has parking space for 5,500 cars on a 70-acre site.

“Each store in the shopping center has its own air conditioning system. In all but the Montgomery Ward store, with a Trane ‘Centravac’ system, the equipment is Carrier installed by Johnson Bros.”

The package units were installed on the roof by means of a helicopter lift. “Not only did this method save hours of time, but it eliminated any chance of damage to the roof, commented D.E. Haskins, president of Johnson Bros.”

“Continued growth of shopping centers and a definite trend to air conditioned enclosed malls was noted by the International Council of Shopping Centers in connection with its annual convention, held here [New York, NY],” wrote C. Dale Mericle in the May 17, 1965 issue.

“More than 800 new shopping centers will be opened this year, about 100 more than were opened in 1964, the council states, and many existing centers will be remodeled so as to provide air conditioned enclosed malls. There are more than 8,300 centers now operating in the United States and Canada.”

Publication date: 04/30/2001