Houston was once touted as the “World’s Most Air Conditioned City”. Quite a claim for a city that by 1920 cooled its rooms, auditoriums and restaurants by placing a block of ice in a container and then circulating the ice water to fan radiators.
The first public room in Houston to be air-conditioned was the Rice Hotel cafeteria which was air-conditioned in 1922. The Second National Bank was the first air-conditioned building in Houston. An air-conditioner unit was installed there in 1923. Two years later, the Majestic Theatre followed suit. And by 1927, the other movie palaces on Main Street were air-conditioned as the public began expecting cool comfort to enhance their movie viewing pleasure. Houston’s first private home wasn’t air-conditioned until 1932.
The May 1938 issue of “Houston”, the old Chamber of Commerce magazine, described air conditioning as “manufactured weather”. According to that issue, there were 427 air conditioning units already installed, including 126 private homes. Houston at that time had a population of almost 400,000.
Air conditioning was still a luxury for most people through the World War II era. It wasn’t until the 1950s that air conditioning became a middle-class necessity. All new office buildings were constructed with air conditioning. Local city journalists kept a close eye on the expansion of air-conditioning, using Census results to explain how Houston was indeed “the air-conditioning capital of the world.”
In 1965, Houston opened the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. The Astrodome was not only the world’s first dome stadium, but it was also the first air-conditioned stadium.
The overall acceptance and need for air conditioning was the beginning of the end for the typical home design with big front porches, wide eaves and high ceilings. The new, sought-after ranch homes with their low ceilings were much easier to air-condition than the old styles with their high ceilings. Air conditioning also claimed responsibility for the tremendous growth of Houston and other Sunbelt cities. Well, of course! Living through a Houston summer is only endurable if you have access to air conditioning!