Reading my blog feeds, I came across Karen Krugman's post at Genealogy Frame of Mind titled Heat and Ancestors (http://genealogyframeofmind.blogspot.com/2011/08/heat-ancestors.html -- see note at bottom). She's in Michigan talking about the heat. We here in Florida are particularly qualified to comment on heat, and Karen inspired me to do so.
Karen mentions the layers of clothing our ancestors wore, and I have seen photographs of how ladies in Florida dressed in the middle and late 19th century and early 20th century. If we were expected to dress that way nowadays, I would lead a rebellion that would make the Civil War look tame! I have often wondered how people survived the summer in Florida wearing so many clothes, and made out of heavy materials, not the light synthetics we have these days (though 100% cotton is still best for hot weather).
Karen also mentions her grandparents having a "wall unit here and there" for air conditioning, but not central air. In the 1950s, my widowed mother did not even have a window unit in the house, though my aunt and grandmother, who lived around the corner from us, did. We had an attic fan, an industrial fan installed in the ceiling in the hallway outside the bedrooms. It really did not do much to cool in the daytime when the temperature reached the 90s (F), but at least moving air was a benefit, especially if you were drinking ice water or iced tea. We drank a lot of that to keep cool. But at night, the attic fan did a great job of cooling. It required that we sleep with our windows open, because it operated by drawing air in through the windows and exhausting it out through the attic, but in those days there was little if any crime in our neighborhood. We thought nothing of leaving the windows open at night, or of leaving the house unlocked during the day.
In fact, my husband (whose family had window-unit air conditioning in their house in the '50s) and I did not have central air until after we were married. Our first house did not have it, nor the house we lived in while he was on active duty in St. Petersburg, FL. The house we built after we had come back to the Jacksonville area was the first to have a central air unit -- a heat pump, which is the most popular kind of air conditioning/heating in Florida. We have one in our present house, too, and in fact just had a new unit installed last year to replace the one which had kept going, like the Energizer Bunny, for 17 years.
Yes, we here in Florida have a soft spot in our hearts for the memory of Dr. John Gorrie, who developed the basic principle behind refrigeration and air conditioning. See more about this here at the website of the University of Florida. Gorrie is indeed "Our Hero," as the website characterizes him, as his work helps keep Florida cool. Thank you, John Gorrie!
(Note: I am sorry you have to cut and paste the link in the first paragraph; I tried for one solid hour to get a live link to work at that point in the paragraph, and Blogger stubbornly refused. I finally had to just give up.)