Pi Attitude Zone: Self-Fulfilment
America Stays Cool
One of the great waves of societal change in North America has been enabled by… air conditioning.
The Southern shoreline of the USA is about five hundred miles long. Sixty years ago, in the aftermath of World War II, less than half a million people lived in that coastal zone. One big reason was that the climate there can be oppressively warm and humid.
Today the area is home to over 20 million people. What made the difference?
The biggest single answer is cooled air. A Cambridge University professor has called air conditioning a “physical addiction”, and “America’s most pervasive and least-noticed epidemic”.
These days AC (as it is increasingly called in the USA) is about making people’s lives more bearable by keeping them cool. It is probably no accident that “Cool!” is a universal expression of pleasure and approval.
That’s not the way things started, however. Domestic air-conditioning was an unintended by-blow of cooling systems introduced in the early part of the 20th century to industrial premises and retail spaces. The earliest success was in a Brooklyn printing plant, where humid conditions were altering the width of the rolls of paper, resulting in blurry misalignment of successive color impressions. In the 1920s, cinemas and department stores saw that their customers were wilting in the Summer heat, costing them business. Primitive air-conditioning systems turned heatwave slumps into boomtimes.
AC remained predominantly a workplace thing for decades, raising productivity in typing pools, cutting absentee rates, and improving industrial quality and productivity by cleaning the air as well as cooling it.
The migration of air conditioning into the American home eventually followed, and soon became an unstoppable transformative force. By the early 1990s nearly two-thirds of households were getting their air cooled, and the figure has grown to nearly 90%. That growth has been convincingly linked to falling disease rates and the reduction of deaths during heatwaves.
It may even have changed America’s political landscape. A study from Berkeley University in California postulates that air-conditioning facilitated the Southward migration of elderly Republican voters from North-Eastern states, thereby breaking a Democrat stranglehold on Southern politics.
On the other hand, air-conditioning consumes less energy than heating, so the North-to-South migration has reduced the national energy bill.
Pi says: how cool is that?Zone: Self-Fulfilment Country: USA / North America Product – Consumer Products