Air Conditioning in the Nations Capital

Washington DC Air Conditioning History

When you think about the warmer months of the year in Washington D.C., you may think about long, sunny days and lush, green landscapes. The scorching heat may not cross your mind because you may be accustomed to spending these warmer months indoors where the air is cool and comfortable. However, air conditioning is a relatively new invention, and many older residents in the area still vividly remember the torrid summer days and nights in the nation’s capital.


In fact, some people took extreme measures to stay cool or had very creative ideas to improve the safety and comfort of local citizens because of how unbearable the heat and humidity were. For example, President James Garfield invented a device that featured ice-cooled sheets being suspended in front of open windows. When the wind blew through the windows, the ice cooled the air that circulated throughout the space. While somewhat effective, it was impractical because of the amount of ice that was needed on the regular basis and because of the watery mess this created indoors.

President Howard Taft installed an early version of an air conditioner in the White House, but this idea was soon scrapped because of how poorly the early models performed. As an alternative, he built a screened-in room onto the White House so that he could sleep comfortably outdoors in the cool night air. This is one of the same methods that many local residents used prior to the widespread availability of air conditioning.

You might think that local residents would have grown accustomed to the heat and humidity in summer months over the years, but this is not the case. In fact, the federal government actually implemented a shutdown plan when the heat and humidity levels reached specific levels. This was for the comfort as well as the health and safety of federal employees. After all, intense heat with high levels of humidity can create a very dangerous situation for those who must spend the day working indoors in an enclosed environment.

However, summer living conditions have dramatically improved. In 1902, Willis Carrier invented the first modern version of the air conditioner, and this device transformed how residents lived. It did take some time for this invention to gain popularity throughout the country. For example, a Carrier air conditioner was not installed in the White House until it was renovated in 1930. Over the years, the air conditioner became a staple item or a veritable necessity for homeowners and businesses to have.

While Washington D.C. does have a fairly northerly location in the country, temperatures can easily rise above 90 or 95 degrees many days of the year. This intense heat may be coupled with high levels of humidity because of the city’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. Today’s residents may enjoy the blissful climate control capabilities of air conditioners, but they should remember that not too many years ago, residents were forced to endure the summers without the benefit of a functional air conditioner.

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