Who was Willis Carrier?

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Have you ever wondered how going to the movies became such a popular summertime activity? After all, it’s not outdoors, and it doesn’t rely on longer daylight hours or even the kids being out of school. And yet, the summer blockbuster season is such a tradition that we don’t even wonder why it’s not the spring blockbuster or the winter one. Well, to find the answer you have to go back almost one hundred years into the past, back to when air conditioning and movies were both brand new inventions.

You see, a young engineer named Willis Carrier invented modern air conditioning back in 1902. But the earliest air conditioning units were extremely large and expensive, so they were mainly used in factories, and only a very few, very wealthy people had air conditioning in their homes. For everybody else, summer still meant opening windows, sitting on porches, and sweating it out. Since movie theaters didn’t generally have windows and got stiflingly hot when they were filled with people, summer was the worst time of year for the movie industry.

And that’s where Willis Carrier saw his opportunity. In 1925, he convinced the Rivoli movie theater in Times Square to install one of his “refrigeration” units. It was a huge and instant success. Movie theaters across the country soon followed in the Rivoli’s footsteps. Average Americans still couldn’t afford an air conditioner in their home, but they could afford a movie ticket that would allow them to escape the summer heat for a couple of hours—even an entire afternoon!

As a result, the summer season went from being the worst time of year for the movie industry to being the best. And not coincidentally, the Golden Age of Hollywood was born!

After World War II, air conditioning began to be more common in American homes, but by that point, the connection between summer and the movies was already strong. Almost one hundred years after Willis Carrier installed that first movie theater air conditioning system, we still look forward to those summer blockbusters and spending a nice cool afternoon at the movies.

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