by Don Boudreaux on July 14, 2014

in Cleaned by Capitalism, History, Inequality, Standard of Living

2014 is the centenary of an unusually large number of regrettable events – for example: the start of World War I; the actual setting-up of the Federal Reserve; the enactment of the Clayton Act; the first full year of operation of the current U.S. personal income tax.  Bad news all.  But some good things also happened that year – for example, 1914 saw the first installation in a private residence of air-conditioning.  The residence was the Minneapolis mansion of the then recently deceased tycoon Charles Gilbert Gates.  (Being recently deceased – he died in 1913 – Gates himself no longer required AC to keep cool in hot weather.)  As reported by Popular Mechanics,

[t]he unit in the Minneapolis mansion of Charles Gates is approximately 7 feet high, 6 feet wide, 20 feet long and possibly never used because no one ever lived in the house.

Apart from the curiosity that the first AC in a private residence was installed in the home of a dead man – and a home in, of all places, Minneapolis (rather than, say, in New Orleans, Miami, or even Manhattan) – the fact is that there are people still alive today who were alive before a single human being ever experienced the comfort of living in a home with air conditioning.  Note also what ought not need to be pointed out but that I’ll point out nevertheless: at first, only very rich people (or their estates!) could afford air conditioning.

Now, of course, in the United States AC is almost universal.  (There’s air-conditioning today even in some dog houses.)  When it comes to comfortable indoor atmospheres, we are far more equal today than we were a century ago (when rich people started installing ACs in their mansions or escaped during the summer months to their cool homes on the beach or in the mountains).


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