Students of history, and especially economists, have pretty strong opinions toward President Herbert Hoover. What many have failed to appreciate about the mining engineer-turned politician is that air conditioning was first installed in the Executive Mansion during his watch. The year was 1930.
Just weeks after the epic Stock Market crash, the Hoover White House suffered a freak electrical fire on Christmas Eve 1929 and the West Wing got the brunt of the damage. Beams exposed, wiring frayed, this was seen as a fresh start to attain modern convenience. Surely they could muster the funds. It was time for air conditioning.
Carrier Corporation had, two years before, installed central air conditioning in the Chamber of the House of Representatives. They were again tapped for a big job.
This would be a turning point in the culture of the Federal Government. The city on the Potomac always emptied out during summer, and respective departments could hold steady with minimal staff until mid-September. Our first 31 presidents all could employ the same reasoning: too darn hot. Well, no longer. For good or for bad, the government in Washington was now a twelve month operation.
It was Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 who added AC to all the White House bedrooms. By World War Two, most railway cars, hotels, and restaurants blew cool in the deadly summers, and in the years following, the average American had air conditioning in his home.
Say what you will about Hoover and the Depression, the Stanford man - engineer, intellect, world traveler, task master - knew something about being cool in a not so cool city.