Summer nights could be unbearable. Screened windows and electric fans were of little relief. Families abandoned their bedrooms to sleep on porches or camp outside in yards, seeking refuge from the suffocating heat.
There had to be a better way to stay cool.
Movie theaters, dance halls, financial institutions and public gathering places offered bulky, electric ventilating systems that “washed the air” every few minutes but houses and apartments had no such convenience.
In 1929, Akron residents learned about a scientific breakthrough, a “health-giving device” that provided “ideal made weather for new homes.” It could keep houses free from dust, dirt and germs and circulate “air conditioned to the proper temperature and humidity.”
The miraculous apparatus was initially called the “home weathermaker.” We know it today as air conditioning.
“The new device is no larger than the average furnace,” the Beacon Journal explained in 1929. “The air is drawn in through a duct leading from the lowest point, atmospherically, in the house. It goes through fine mesh screens which are designed to remove 98 percent of the dust and an almost equal percentage of the fine septic and germ particles which it bears.
“Forced by an electrically driven blower, it then passes over a steel plate where it is heated by gas. This same gas flame is also warming a water chamber — kept constantly filled by a float valve — from which moisture is evaporated into this air as it goes through the humidifier — the next step. After the air has been cleaned, humidified and heated, it is then circulated through the house.”
The Holland Vaporaire System was among the first in Akron.
George Masek, Akron branch manager of the Holland Furnace Co., invited the public to witness the wonders of “air conditioning” in his downtown shop at 24 N. High St. City leaders, health officials and school administrators were among those who attended the demonstrations.
The Holland Furnace Co. was founded in 1906 in Holland, Michigan, by former Akron resident John P. Kolla (1860-1933), who had learned his trade at the Buckeye Mower & Reaper Works and Taplin-Rice-Clerkin Co. in Summit County.
His latest technology had made its way back home.
“In summer, the air-washing process effectively cools the home air, and together with the constant circulation, produces complete indoor comfort in hot weather,” Masek told visitors to his store. “To the housewife, the conditioning unit is a boon from many angles, as the air-conditioned home is remarkably free from dust.”
He cited tests by Dr. E. Vernon Hill, an “eminent aerologist” in Chicago, who concluded that filtering and washing the air removes 98.2 percent of the dust and impurities in a home.
“The need for the customary daily dustings is eliminated,” Masek said. “Curtains and other furnishings keep clean for a long period and there is less need for frequent mopping and cleaning of walls, woodwork and floors.”
Until that point, air conditioning had been restricted to commercial buildings because of its “elaborate and costly machinery,” Masek said. It was now available to homes of all types and sizes, regardless of outdoor conditions, and it was affordable to use, he said.
That was a bit of a stretch during the Great Depression.
In the summer of 1932, the air-conditioning unit cost $235 (about $4,400 in today’s money) plus an undisclosed connection fee. Customers were then placed on a “convenient monthly payment plan.” Considering that nearly two out of three Akron factory workers had lost their jobs by 1932-1933, air conditioning was a pie-in-the-sky luxury for many residents.
Still, the Holland Furnace Co. stayed on message.
“Now every home can afford summer cooling,” it advertised.
“Keep your home cool and comfortable this summer with Holland’s cooling and air-conditioning system. Guard your family’s health against midsummer’s ‘dog days’ and sultry, stifling nights. Enjoy restful, refreshing sleep in a Holland cooled and air-conditioned home and build up resistance against the devitalizing effects of days spent in scorching, oppressive heat.”
Holland didn’t have its Akron monopoly for long. Local competitors came out of the woodwork and crowded the market.
Among Akron companies offering air-conditioning systems in the 1930s were Avery, Carle, Crawford, Harpster, Janitrol, Jennings, Merryweather, Moncrief, Orton, Ravenna, Rybolt, Taplin-Rice-Clerkin, Willis, Wise, XXth Century and Hardware & Supply Co.
Following World War II, air conditioning became more common in Akron homes, although it should be noted that even today some families don’t have it or can’t afford it.
Many people take it for granted in the 21st century, leaving air-conditioned homes, driving in air-conditioned cars and working in air-conditioned businesses.
As Holland predicted long ago: “Have autumn in your living room when it’s sweltering outside. Enjoy springtime indoors when the weatherman says, ‘zero.’ Get the year-around satisfaction of a heating system that’s always on the job.”
Mark J. Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3850.