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Cool It! How A/C Transformed Vero Beach

This summer, give thanks for John Gorrie and Willis Carrier. Without them, most of us would be living somewhere else.

Jack Chesnutt, one-time manager of downtown Vero Beach’s Florida Theatre, recalls how people used to watch movies “just to cool off.”

Jack Chesnutt, one-time manager of downtown Vero Beach’s Florida Theatre, recalls how people used to watch movies “just to cool off.”

Summers in Florida are not at all like they used to be. Global warming aside, we tolerate August with few of the cooling rituals – mostly sweating and self-fanning – that for decades defined Southern living. We push a button and get frosty air. Years ago, folks were beating the heat by putting their undies in the icebox.

Most people thank John Gorrie for changing all that. The Florida physician initiated the age of air conditioning when he blew forced air over buckets of ice to lower the body temperatures of hospitalized malaria and yellow fever patients in the 1830s. A statue of Dr. Gorrie sits in Washington, D.C.’s Statuary Hall along with one of railroad builder Henry Flagler. In Apalachicola, both a state park and museum are dedicated to him.

But it was Willis Carrier in 1902 who became the true “father of air conditioning,” according to a 1984 study of the subject by Raymond Arsenault, then an associate professor of history at the University of South Florida. Carrier not only figured out how to remove oppressive humidity from the air, but made regular and important advancements to air-conditioning systems over a 50-year period.

Read the entire article in the Summer 2013 issue