Oak Brook residents recall life before air-conditioning
Tom Sewick, 89, of Oak Brook, talks about his memories of life before air-conditioning became commonplace in homes. | Chuck Fieldman~Sun-Times Media
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Updated: August 13, 2012 6:54AM
OAK BROOK — Tom Sewick has a very simple explanation as to why he doesn’t remember anyone complaining too much about extremely hot summer temperatures many years ago, when nobody had air-conditioning in their homes.
“Well, there really isn’t much to remember because we just dealt with it,” said Sewick, an Oak Brook resident who will celebrate his 90th birthday Aug. 2. “There wasn’t any air-conditioning back then, so we didn’t know better. Our air-conditioning was a fan.”
Prior to the days when air-conditioning became common in homes, one room offered relative comfort during hot spells.
“The basement was the place to be,” said Sewick, who grew up in French Lick, Ind. “It was a blessing if you had a basement.”
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. The Heat Engineering Company provides sales and service to several area communities, including Hinsdale, La Grange, LaGrange Park, Clarendon Hills, Oak Brook, Indian Head Park, and Burr Ridge.
“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.
“I think air-conditioning is wonderful,” Sewick said. “I don’t need it too cold, but it does make it much more comfortable.”
Carolyn Lukes, 85, of Oak Brook, said she wouldn’t go without air-conditioning now. But she has plenty of memories of life before having what has become the usual way to cool off inside.
“They’d put a hose out for the kids; that’s how we cooled off,” said Lukes, who grew up in Cicero. “It was very hot sometimes in the summer, but that really is all we knew. We’d run through the water from the hose and sometimes even splash around in the water when it would build up against the curb.”
Because of the extremely hot weather this summer, keeping air-conditioners operational has been more important than ever, Mueller said.
“We’re having some of the hottest times on record right now,” he said. “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 their air-conditioning to be fixed during a hot spell.”
Lukes believes those who never have gone without air-conditioning would have a difficult time without it.
“If the young people didn’t have it, they would drop dead,” she said.