Let me say right up front, I'm a weather wimp.
I'm Southern California born and bred and when the temperature dips below 70 or rises above 90, I become easily irritated, feeling like a slave to oppressive weather.
Oh sure, I've lived other places: San Francisco where summer never comes and the fog seeps into your bones; and Washington, D.C., a place so hot in July and August that the British Foreign Service once declared it a hardship post, considering it harsher than Calcutta.
All things considered, I'll take Los Angeles, where the voices of songbirds waft on jasmine-scented breezes.
Alas, for the last week or so, the songbirds have fallen silent and the jasmine is wilting. 106 in Pasadena? 108 in Burbank? Those are the kind of temperatures we see in Mecca.
And according to some scientists, it is the new reality.
Let us pause for a moment then, wipe up the beads of sweat that have migrated from our foreheads to the tips of our noses, and honor the memory of Willis Carrier.
Because if it hadn’t been for Mr. Carrier, life in Our Fair City during the summer would be like taking up residence in a pizza oven.
Carrier was notable for two things: He had a relative described as the “Queen of Hell” hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692. He is credited with inventing modern day air-conditioning. It’s unclear if one event led to the other.
Carrier was no tinkerer. He held a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University and in 1902 was called upon to solve a quality problem experienced at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing & Publishing Company of Brooklyn. It seems high temperatures and humidity was causing their paper to wrinkle.
Carrier submitted drawings for what became recognized as the world's first modern air conditioning system and was ultimately awarded a patent. Other factories eventually wanted in on the action so Carrier established Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America.
Carrier had produced one of the great inventions of the 20th century but success was a long time coming, interrupted by two World Wars and a Depression. But by the end of World War II, business and booming. And by 2012, Carrier was a $12.5 billion company with over 43,000 employees serving customers in 170 countries on six continents.
Other great moments in air conditioning history:
200 A.D. The 2nd-century Chinese inventor Ding Huan of the Han Dynasty invented a rotary fan for air conditioning, with seven manually powered wheels 9.8 feet in diameter.
201 A.D. The first fight over control of the office thermostat was reported.
In July of 1881, after an assassin shoots President James Garfield, naval engineers build a boxy makeshift cooling unit to keep him cool and comfortable. The device is filled with water-soaked cloth and a fan blows hot air overhead and keeps cool air closer to the ground. The device can lower room temperature by up to 20 degrees but it uses a half-million pounds of ice in two months. And President Garfield still dies.
In 1914, the first home air conditioning unit was installed in a mansion owned by Charles Gates in Minneapolis. According to one report, it was 7 feet high, 6 feet wide, 20 feet long and possibly never used because no one ever lived in the house.
In 1931, H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman invented an individual room air conditioner that sits on a window ledge but the cost was prohibitive ($10,000 and up) for most people. If you wanted air conditioning, you found a movie theater with a sign out front that said, “It’s cool inside.”
Packard offered the first air conditioned car in 1939. Unfortunately, should the Packard's passengers get chilly, the driver had to stop the engine, open the hood, and disconnect a compressor belt.
In 1942, the United States builds its first "summer peaking" power plant made to handle the growing electrical load of air conditioning.
In the 1950s, residential air conditioning becomes just another way to keep up with the Joneses. More than 1 million units are sold in 1953 alone.
And, of course, thanks to Mr. Carrier, Phoenix morphed from a roadside gas station to a city of 1.6 million. The folks down there call it the Valley of the Sun which is like calling the South Pole a “winter wonderland.”
So how did we survive for thousands of years without air conditioning?
People built houses differently with high ceilings and deep porches that often protected windows from the heat of the sun. Windows were also placed to allow cross ventilation.
In cases where it wasn't possible to have two windows on opposite sides of a single room, architects would line up rooms in a row, allowing air to flow between them. You can see this in old shotgun homes in New Orleans.
Porches were important, not just for shading the windows of a home, but also for providing a place where people could sit outside, out of the glare of the sun, and perhaps enjoy a breeze. This led to a whole culture of people sitting outside on their porches after supper, which has essentially disappeared.
Some older houses were also built with sleeping porches, screened-in porches where one could sleep during the summer, enjoying the breezes but protected from bugs.
Best of all, people took naps. People in parts of Spain still do this — they nap during the hottest hours of the day, resume work later in the afternoon, and then shop and socialize once the sun has gone down.
My advice for this summer: keep cool, especially when your utility bill arrives.
Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.