Burr Ridge residents recall life before air-conditioning
Lifeguard Karson Kurzeja from Willowbrook takes a pool break Sunday at the Woods Pool in Burr Ridge. | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
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Updated: September 10, 2012 2:00AM
BURR RIDGE — Tom and Agnes Donlon of Burr Ridge can’t remember exactly when they first had air conditioning, but the 88-year-olds remember homes darkened by drawn window shades and naps on the living room floor in front of the electric fan.
“It was almost impossible to cook on those days, it was so warm,” said Agnes, who recalled dinners of salads and cold cuts on the hottest summer nights. Anything that required a stove or oven was done in the morning, before the heat of the day.
Before the days of refrigerators, the ice man was a welcome visitor.
“Each day the ice man card was displayed on the kitchen window to assure that the next day’s delivery would be filled,” Agnes said. A shard from the back of the ice man’s delivery truck was a special summer treat.
Tom Donlon said the Ogden Park pool in Chicago got so crowded on hot days that children who swam in the afternoon were restricted from the evening swim. To keep track of who had already taken a dip, pool staff checked for wet swim suits.
“Most kids owned two suits, one for the afternoon swim and the dry one for evening admission, thereby over-riding the restriction,” Tom said.
Agnes said 10 cents bought not only an afternoon of entertainment at the local movie theater, but also a welcome retreat from the heat.
“The theaters featured 70-degree inside temperatures,” she said. “That was the coolest 70 degrees you ever felt.”
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.
“We’re having some of the hottest times on record right now,” Mueller said July 5. “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 the air-conditioning to be fixed during a hot spell.”
Staff Writer Chuck Fieldman contributed to this report