Here’s a post that first appeared as part of my Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series on how we kept cool before the days of whole-house air conditioning in working class neighborhoods. Enjoy, and perhaps it will bring back memories!
* * * * *
Maybe I’m thinking of this because it is a warm day and I’m grateful for our air conditioner. I’m reminded of the fact that growing up in working class Youngstown, almost none of our homes had air conditioners, so we had to find other ways to keep cool. Here’s ten ways I can think of that we kept cool:
1. Swimming at the local pool. For me it was Borts Pool on the West Side–for others it was Pemberton or North Side. We could get in for a dime for the whole afternoon. If your family was a bit more mobile, places like Yankee Lake or Pymatuming provided relief from the summer heat.
2. Your basement. Most homes had basements that were below ground and were considerably cooler.
3. A movie theater. Back then the theaters often advertised their air conditioning, especially in the summer. An afternoon double-feature, no matter how bad was often a cheap way to buy several hours of cool.
4. A ride in a convertible with the top down. Yeah, you felt a bit road grimy afterwards, but sailing along with the breeze in your face felt great!
5. Your front porch. Lots of homes had front porches. Our had big green awnings that kept the porch shady all day and bushes on our western exposure to keep out the late afternoon sun. If there was any breeze at all, it was comfortable. Most evenings, that’s where you’d find my folks until the late night news.
6. A big electric fan often kept the house cool at night. Many of the older homes had windows that allow for decent air circulation. In our house, we’d have a fan on that would suck the hot air out a back window, pulling in the night air through the front.
7. The DQ, Isaly’s or Handels would at least cool off our mouths.
8. During the day, there were popsicles which did the same thing. Double popsicles were great, except that if you split them and planned to eat both, you had to eat the first really quickly! I always like grape.
9. Most of the downtown stores were air-conditioned, and there were always Strouss’ malts in their bargain basement!
10. Often while waiting to pick up newspapers for my paper route, we’d hang out at a nearby gas station with a pop machine–one that dispensed bottles. As long as we drank them on site, we didn’t need to leave a deposit–just drop them in the wood trays for the bottling company to pick up.
Air conditioning was a major expenditure that was beyond many of our family’s budgets back then. To replace the old heating systems in most of our homes with a heating and A/C unit would have been costly, and most of our homes weren’t insulated very well and so cooling would be costly. But we still found ways to stay relatively cool.
What were your favorite ways of staying cool?
This post first appeared here on July 26, 2014.