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BULLEThistory archive

History Archive Photo
Sleeping porches, such as this one at the Ford Hotel, were an early answer to Arizona's summer heat.

© Arizona State Library

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A Cool Story
From sleeping porches to evaporative coolers to the invention of air conditioning, Arizonans have always been looking for ways to keep cool. That's because it's so hot here.

By Andrea Crandall & Kathy Ritchie

For most Arizonans, temperate, sunshine-filled autumns, winters and springs come at a price: summer. The season can be brutal in many parts of the state, with temperatures soaring into the triple digits and staying that way for months. Fortunately, the invention of evaporative coolers and, later, air conditioning changed how people work, play and live in the desert.

However, long before Phoenix became the "Air-Conditioned Capital of the World," people would sleep on their porches to keep cool. In fact, both the Ford Hotel (pictured) and the Hotel San Carlos accommodated guests on their sleeping porches during the hot months. But thanks to the advent of evaporative coolers, people eventually moved back inside at night.

According to the book Arizona: A History by Thomas E. Sheridan, homemade "swamp boxes" — contraptions made of chicken wire, wallboard, excelsior matting, electric fans and water sprayers — sat in the windows of thousands of homes. In an article that appeared in the Journal of Arizona History, Bob Cunningham writes that "manufacturers began to displace some of the do-it-yourself swamp box volume by correcting shortcomings of the home-assembled models."

By 1951, five Phoenix-based companies manufactured half of the evaporative coolers produced in the United States. Their popularity not only helped people keep cool, but also spurred the local economy.

However, according to Sheridan, coolers required regular maintenance and weren't effective during monsoon season, when high humidity decreased their cooling capability. As a result, refrigeration cooling, or air conditioning, ultimately toppled the evaporative-cooling market. And today, air conditioning is as common in Arizona as stunning sunsets — and both make summer more bearable.

>> Back to History Archive

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