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Before Air Conditioning in South Florida

When was the last time you were without air conditioning? This summer has been a hot one all over the United States. For those of us here in South Florida, we highly rely on our A/C systems. It’s difficult to fathom people living in South Florida without air conditioning. The idea of living in this humid and hot environment without the ability to moderate the moisture and temperature level in a home sounds nearly impossible. And how did the early South Floridian settlers keep away pesky mosquitoes without the ability to close windows?

After doing a bit of research, I learned that Indian River County was the first municipality to implement a mosquito-control district. The Florida East Coast Mosquito and Sand Fly Control Association was formed consisting of multiple members from various South Florida counties. This organization successfully made mosquito control an issue for the governmental elections in 1944, including governor, Legislature and the U.S. Congress.

Apparently, early South Florida settlers used newspaper as lining for clothing to ward off insects. Mosquito nets were draped over large hats and worn around the shoulders. Whisks made from palmetto leaves were used as swatters to brush off insects. And it almost hurts to think about it in the midst of almost suffocating humid conditions and scolding hot temperatures, but fires were kept burning to aid as an insect repellant.

Needless to say, the population in South Florida prior to the mid twentieth century was very bleak. In 1870, the entire Dade County area included a census of only 85 people. At that time, Dade County reached as far north as Jupiter, included some of Lake Okeechobee and ended in today’s Miami area. Nonetheless, it wasn’t long before people from states further north began making their way to South Florida with hopes of a new life for various reasons. A large number of the victims who had lost their homes during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 relocated from Illinois to what is known today as Lake Worth.

Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway began construction in 1888 and was completed in 1912. It went from Jacksonville to Key West. This significantly increased the area’s population and after World War I, roads were also improved making it easier to get in and out of South Florida. Until the hurricane of 1926, the newcomer boom held steady. After the destructive storm, there was a cooling off period for people visiting and relocating to the tropical area.

South Floridians relied primarily on a building’s architecture to provide defense against the heat. Addison Mizner was the famous South Florida architect known for his ability to turn a Spanish style home inside out and create the proper ventilation necessary to endure the Florida heat and humidity before A/C. Homes and commercial buildings were built with long central breezeways, thin walls, high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and wraparound porches, which were all surrounded heavily by shade trees.

A front porch was a high traffic area for early South Florida families. It was common for the entire neighborhood to be sitting on their front porch, or strolling around the neighborhood. Many would sleep on their porch or fire escape, as it was much cooler than the smoldering indoors. Electric fans were invented in 1882 and even ceiling fans came into the picture by 1900. When the automobile became popular, it somewhat took the place of the front porch for cooling off.

Movie houses (theaters) were another place where people would go to avoid the heat by 1906. These venues were posting signs which read “20 degrees cooler inside”. It was a remarkable marketing tool. By 1951, efficiency air conditioning units became available to homes. Nonetheless, it was not until 1960 that 60% of homes were using the A/C unit and 84% by 1970.

It’s wonderful to learn about South Florida history. However, it’s more wonderful to have an air conditioner that works. If you are experiencing a problem with your air conditioning unit, or you simply would like a free estimate on air conditioning repairs, maintenance or new A/C installation, contact Rapid Rooter either by phone at 877-202-6874, or visit us online at www.rapid-rooter.com .

 
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