Clarendon Hills residents recall life before air conditioning
Ron Reiner, 77, talks Monday in front of his Clarendon Hills home about his memories of life before having air-conditioning. | Chuck Fieldman~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: August 13, 2012 6:30AM
CLARENDON HILLS — Living for the past 50 years in Clarendon Hills hasn’t diminished the childhood memories for Marilyn Olszowka of spending an occasional night sleeping in Chicago’s Douglas Park.
Olszowka, 77, wasn’t homeless. But just as was the case with almost everyone else in the area at the time, air conditioning wasn’t something to be found in her family’s home. Fans often helped to stay cool on hot days, but sometimes sleeping outdoors was the best way to find comfort.
“We just dealt with it when it got really hot in the summer,” Olszowka said. “Nobody had air conditioning in their homes back then, so it wasn’t something we even thought about.”
Along with her memories of hot summers included sometimes sleeping in the park, Olszowka recalls when she first got air conditioning after moving to Clarendon Hills.
“It was some time in the ’60s,” she said. “That was a big deal at that time. I loved it then, and I still love it.”
Keeping cool while trying to sleep at night is a priority for Olszowka and many others, but the longtime resident doesn’t limit her use of air conditioning to late-night hours.
“It probably is most important at night when it’s that hot, but I like it all the time,” she said.
Ron Reiner, 77, grew up in South Bend., Ind., and has lived in Clarendon Hills for 42 years. He, too, well remembers life before homes cooled with air conditioning.
“We didn’t have a fan, either when I grew up,” he said. “You just accepted it. When we were kids, we would cool off outside in a wash tub or with a water hose.”
Reiner said he first got air conditioning in his home some time in the 1970s.
“I’m glad to have it, but if it wasn’t for my wife I would probably keep it off sometimes and open up the windows more.”
Bob Mueller, vice president of the Heat Engineering Company, has been in the heating and air-conditioning business since 1957. His company was started in 1948 in Western Springs and has been located in Countryside since 1978.
“I remember going out at night and doing sales calls in the early ’60s,” Mueller said. “People were exploring air conditioning then, but it still had to be sold.”
As the 1960s went on, residential air conditioning became more and more in demand, Mueller said.
“From about the mid-’60s to the early 70s, just about every new home would be equipped with air-conditioning,” he said. “Some homes were set up to handle it when people didn’t want to spend the money at the time, but thought they might want to add it later.”
Mueller said central air conditioning became standard in newly constructed single-family homes in the early 1980s.
“We’re having some of the hottest times on record right now,” Mueller said July 5. “We have found that it’s much more of an emergency for air conditioning in a hot spell than for heat during a cold spell in the winter. People will pack up their families and move out of their homes while they’re waiting for the air conditioning to be fixed during a hot spell.”