When I first took a look at the task at hand — picking out the important news events in the air conditioning trade during the 1930s — I questioned the sanity of my boss. After all, how could I rummage through a couple of dozen hardbound books with weekly copies ofThe Newsfrom that decade and condense my story to a mere 1,500-word essay?

Impossible, I thought. I would surely miss some of the stories that readers would immediately remind me about. There is no way I would come through this story unscathed and unblemished. Surely there was an important event in the 30s that strikes a chord with you, isn’t there? Granted, that decade began and ended without my presence but I can still talk about things from those days that affect our trade today, and so can you.

You’ll see my story in The News’ special anniversary edition highlighting the last 75 years of air conditioning and refrigeration, the April 30th issue. The rest of our editorial staff will contribute stories from the 1920s through 2001. It is shaping up to be a very interesting look at our history.

Historic Advertising

There were a few things I found so fascinating about that era. The name of our newsmagazine changed from theElectric Refrigeration Newsto theAir Conditioning & Refrigeration News, but the format remained basically the same. The content, however, often caught my eye.

First, the proliferation of ads touting refrigerators is striking, and the price wars that went on were major events. Big names like Frigidaire and Kelvinator kept slashing the prices of their products in what seemed to be a decade-long price war.

The number of full-page ads featuring the latest and greatest kitchen appliances is mind-boggling, compared to the advertising content in today’s News.

And speaking of ads, that was the second-most-fascinating thing about my research.

The ads were cleverly written and designed to encourage immediate emotional reactions from the readers. Whereas it is difficult to get our readers emotionally excited about new refrigerants or high-efficiency furnaces today, it was not so in the 30s.

The ads idealized family life and pointed out how, by selling unique refrigerators and room air conditioners, contractors could make “friends for life” and “bring a family closer together” — or some such nonsense.

I found myself gazing away from the stories and looking at ads. I also noticed a lot of advertising for Detroit-area hotels, possibly to encourage out-of-town readers to visit the editorial offices of The News or the many refrigeration-related industries in the Detroit area. (Imagine spending $2.50 a night for a hotel room.)

Spanning The Globe

The last thing I found especially appealing about the decade was the editor of The News, George F. Taubeneck. Good ol’ George spent many days on the road, kind of like me, searching for stories that would be of interest to the readers. Taubeneck was known to take trips around the world, sending back travelogue-type photos and stories that had a lot to do with the local flavor of the hvacr trade, although I’m not sure the readers benefited from stories of old cronies who relocated to interesting locales.

Still, the stories were interesting and they got me thinking. It took Taubeneck six months to circle the globe and send back reports via snail mail or telegraph. I could probably do it in a month, and produce stories that would benefit each and every contractor/reader.

Are you listening, boss?

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); halljr@bnp.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 04/16/2001