Beating the Heat in the 1930s

History Nebraska Permanent Collection

History Nebraska Permanent Collection

The mid-1930s saw some of the hottest summer temperatures ever recorded in Nebraska. When Ruth Godfrey Donovan and her family moved to Lincoln in 1934, the Depression and a severe drought were well underway.

Donovan, who lived in a small apartment near downtown Lincoln, recalled: “Sleeping was difficult during that heat ridden time. Sometimes it would be so hot inside the building we dragged the cushions from the living room couch out on the front porch and slept on them in the cooler outside air.”

One of the favorite ways to cool off was to visit an air conditioned movie theater or soda fountain. Bottled beverages could be purchased and consumed at home or the thrifty could buy a package of Kool-Aid, invented by Hastings resident Edwin Perkins, and mix a refreshing drink themselves.

Donovan said: “The iceman was still making his daily rounds at that time. I prepared for his coming by placing a large washtub in the center of the living room floor. Then I watched for him. When I saw his small truck in front I rushed out and asked for a fifty pound piece of the delightfully cold product.

He would bring it into the apartment and place it in the tub. Then I turned a strategically placed electric fan to blow on the block of ice. For several hours I gloated over the cooling breezes!”

She recalled a neighbor’s homemade air conditioner, “the wonder of the year,” which consisted of little more than an old automobile radiator in the living room.

From the Kearney Daily Hub, August 15, 1933

From the Kearney Daily Hub, August 15, 1933

“The window behind it was open slightly, just enough to allow a garden hose to be passed in to the coils of the radiator and another piece of hose to go from the coils and out of the window. An electric fan was placed behind the radiator and blew a steady stream of air on the coils. The mixture of cold water going through and the air from the fan produced cool air for the room!”

— Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

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