A lot of people know that air conditioning makes the south more habitable for a lot of people. It’s generally accepted that the population of southern Florida and most of Texas is only the size it is because cooling technology has improved to the point that people can live there. However this is only part of the story, the interesting thing is the evolution of air conditioning in towns like Austin from being a rare luxury item for the wealthy for being so ubiquitous that most people don’t even notice it. There was once a time when it wasn’t standard for cars to have air conditioning, whereas now that wouldn’t pass in the south.
People used to pretend their cars had air conditioning. If you’ve ever been stuck in the hot summer sun somewhere as hot as Austin you know how bad of an idea this could be. Imagine your father (typically) determined to keep up appearances not letting anyone roll down a window so people driving by would think that the car had air conditioning. Imagine being stuck in the back of that car just cooking and cooking in the heat. There were actual medical problems caused by this. People got heat stroke or over exposure because of an insistence on keeping up with the Joneses. And while the impulse to worry about one’s rank in society is largely at fault, one important thing to note is the inherent difference in how air condition was perceived.
Air conditioning was a true luxury and status item. You had it because you were rich, and only the rich could afford it. Everyone else tried to get by with shade, a fan, and natural breezes. If you were lucky enough to live near large bodies of cool water you could regulate your heat that way. Ice cold beverages ruled the day as a way to keep cool. While a great many people in Austin, even ones with air conditioning, will still gleefully open up a can of something ice cold to fight the heat; it’s no longer a need. Air conditioning has become so inexpensive that poor college students, living on their own, have it in their apartments and run it to beat the heat. It’s not a status symbol, instead it’s just simply a necessity that people can easily afford because they need it to live. It’s amazing how things can change overtime. The value of air conditioning in towns like Austin, TX has always been high, thankfully the cost has continued to decline so more people can benefit from it.