After enduring days on end of 90 degrees plus temperatures, it’s hard to remember that there are some cool things about summer. Here’s a top 10:
- Air conditioning—Willis Carrier invented the first modern air conditioning system in 1902. Initial applications were industrial. Carrier began exploring air conditioning after he was asked to find a way to control the humidity in a Brooklyn printing factory so that the size of the paper would remain constant, allowing the ink to align correctly. Early adopters of air conditioning included textile and candy factories.
- Automobile air conditioning—In 1939 Packard became the first automobile manufacturer to introduce air conditioning as an option. It discontinued the option after two years since the system was unwieldy (it discharged air from the back, occupied half the trunk, and required manual installation and removal of the drive belt to turn it on and off) and was too expensive to attract consumers. In 1954, the Nash Ambassador became the first American vehicle to feature a practical and affordable air conditioning unit. By 1969, 54% of all new American cars were equipped with air conditioning.
- Ice cream—Ancient Greeks and Romans ate flavored snow. It’s believed that ice cream as we know it debuted in Italy sometime in the 17th century. Advertisements for ice cream appeared in the New World by 1777. George Washington spent $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790.
The average American consumes 22 pounds of ice cream a year. According to a 2012 survey by the International Ice Cream Association, vanilla is the most popular flavor followed by chocolate chip mint and cookies and cream.
- Cold Drinks— Ice cream sodas were invented in 1874. Milk shakes were invented by a Wahlgreen’s soda jerk in 1922. Essential to the popularity of milk shakes and ice cream sodas and later to smoothies was the invention of the blender by Stephen Poplawski in 1922. And long before ice cream drinks, there was lemonade. Records reflecting sale of a lemonade-type beverage were found in the Cairo Geniza and date from about the tenth century.
- Beaches—Conde Nast Traveller anoints El Nido in the Philippines as the best beach in the world. U.S. News and World Report dubs Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach. Both publications pick Hawaii as the location of the best beaches in the U.S. Conde Nast singles out Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Oahu, and U.S News favors Kaihalulu in Maui.
Don’t forget the sunscreen. Ancient Egyptians used extracts of rice bran and jasmine to protect against sun damage. The first modern sunscreen was developed by French chemist Eugene Schueller in 1936. Schueller went on to found L’Oreal.
- Boardwalks—With all due respect to the Philippines, the Cayman Islands, and Hawaii, nothing says summer kitsch like a good boardwalk. The Atlantic City boardwalk opened in 1870 and has been immortalized as the highest-priced Monopoly property. The wooden walkways along the Jersey Shore boast tacky attractions and amusements and summer food specialties like candy apples and salt-water taffy. According to the Cape May County Tourist Department, 79% of tourists say that the boardwalk is the biggest attraction after the beach.
And with all due respect to the Philippines, the Cayman Islands, and Hawaii, the Jersey Shore was good enough for seven presidents to make it a vacation spot: Grant, Hays, Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, McKinley, Wilson. Garfield went to the Jersey Shore to recuperate after he was shot by an assassin. But his doctors couldn’t find the bullet. They used unsanitary instruments and their unsanitary fingers to probe the wound. Garfield ended up with sepsis. The doctors even enlisted Alexander Graham Bell (yes, the telephone guy), who conceived a primitive metal detector that he hoped would locate the elusive bullet. This out-of-the-box effort didn’t work either, especially since Garfield was lying on a spring bed. So Garfield died, assisted by his doctors.
- Beach reading—Excessively light reading is a great antidote to excessively oppressive heat.
- Heat Wave—A heat wave is an extended period of higher than normal temperatures. The heat wave of 1936, which stretched from late June through August is considered the worst in U.S. history, causing over 5,000 deaths. The accompanying drought destroyed enormous numbers of crops. Major cities experienced their all-time record temperatures in July, 1936: New York City (106 degrees), Minneapolis (108 degrees), Omaha (114 degrees). One hundred seven degree temperatures were recorded in Baltimore in July, 1936, but that record was eclipsed by a reading of 108 degrees in July, 2011.
Ok, there’s nothing cool about a heat wave, but Heat Wave is the title of two completely different hit songs that have etched their ways into music history. One was written by Irving Berlin in 1933 and was introduced by Ethel Waters. It was later performed by Ethel Merman in the movie Alexander’s Ragtime Band and by Marilyn Monroe in There’s No Business Like Show Business. Here’s Ethel Waters singing Irving Berlin’s Heat Wave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5PpCCfhBhY
The second Heat Wave, written by the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team was introduced by Martha and the Vandellas and later covered by Linda Ronstadt. The song helped solidify Motown’s popularity. Here’s Martha and the Vandellas, singing H-D-H’s Heat Wave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XE2fnYpwrng
Anyone else know of two hit songs with identical names?
- Blockbuster movies: Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is considered the first blockbuster summer movie. It was followed by Grease, Raiders of the Lost Ark, T., Independence Day, Jurassic Park, Men in Black, Back to the Future, Pirates of the Caribbean, Ghost, and most recently, Guardians of the Galaxy. This summer’s movies have been just meh, but if you want a small screen experience that has the feel of E.T., check out Netflix’s Stranger Things.
- Summer Idioms: Dog days of summer have nothing to do with dogs, Indian summers (please, no) may have nothing to do with Indians, and it’s never been hot enough to fry an egg on a sidewalk, though it may be hot as hell.
The dog days of summer refers to a period in late July when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises before the sun. The Greeks and Romans believed the period was the hottest in the year and would usher in war, fevers, and other catastrophes. In actuality, the hottest days of summer can be anytime, not just late July. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/07/150710-dog-days-summer-sirius-star-astronomy-weather-language/
The phrase Indian summer—an abnormally warm spell in October or November—was first used in a letter by French-American writer St. John de Crevecoeur. (Crevecoeur’s best known work is Letters of an American Farmer, which trumpeted the equalizing impact of the American frontier). The origin of the term is debated. One theory has to do with Native American hunting seasons. Another theory revolves around the load level of ships. http://www.themountaineagle.com/news/2007-10-24/news/019.html
As for frying an egg on the sidewalk, the sidewalk doesn’t get hot enough. But the hood of a car might work. https://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/friedegg.html
Honorable mentions—Summer Stock; Summer fruit (peaches, plums, nectarines and watermelons); and Baseball, the Summer Game (which would be number one except that the season now starts in March and continues until November).