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A Prisoner of the Boxer Rebellion, 1900

The Galveston Hurricane of 1900

Farm Wife, 1900

The Death of Queen Victoria, 1901

The Assassination of President William McKinley, 1901

The Roosevelts Move Into the White House, 1901

Riding a Rural Free Delivery Route, 1903

First Flight, 1903

The Gibson Girl

Early Adventures With The Automobile

Immigrating to America, 1905

San Francisco Earthquake, 1906

Henry Ford Changes the World, 1908

A Walk with President Roosevelt, 1908

Children At Work, 1908-1912

On Safari, 1909

Birth of the Hollywood Cowboy, 1911

Doomed Expedition to the South Pole, 1912

Sinking of the Titanic, 1912

1st Woman to Fly the English Channel, 1912

The Massacre of the Armenians, 1915

The Bolsheviks Storm the Winter Palace, 1917

The Execution of Tsar Nicholas II, 1918

President Wilson Suffers a Stroke, 1919

Making Movies, 1920

King Tut's Tomb, 1922

Coolidge Becomes President, 1923

Adolf Hitler Attempts a Coup, 1923

Air Conditioning Goes to the Movies, 1925

Prohibition, 1927

Lindbergh Flies the Atlantic, 1927

Babe Ruth Hits His 60th Home Run, 1927

The Wall Street Crash, 1929

The Bonus Army Invades Washington, D.C., 1932

The Reichstag Fire, 1933

Shoot-out with Bonnie and Clyde, 1933

Migrant Mother, 1936

The Bombing of Guernica, 1937

The Rape of Nanking, 1937

Dining with the King and Queen of England, 1938

Images Of War 1918-1971

The Death of President Franklin Roosevelt, 1945

Thoughts Of A President, 1945

Jackie Robinson Breaks Baseball's Color Barrier, 1945

The Assassination of Gandhi, 1948

The Russians Discover a Spy Tunnel in Berlin, 1956

The Hungarian Revolution, 1956

The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 1963

First Voyage to the Moon, 1968

President Nixon Meets Elvis, 1970

Payoff to the Vice President, 1971

President Nixon Leaves the White House 1974

Air Conditioning

Goes to the Movies, 1925

Air conditioning was born in 1902 when Willis Carrier, a mechanical engineer, developed and installed the first system in a publishing company in Brooklyn, New York. The Carrier Engineering Corporation was formed in 1915 to manufacture and sell his new technology. Carrier's invention would eventually have a revolutionary impact on America.
Willis Carrier

The world without air conditioning was radically different from the one we experience today. For example, before air conditioning, the summer heat transformed Washington, DC into a virtual ghost town as politicians abandoned the nation's capital to escape its oppressive temperatures and humidity. The sizzling temperatures of cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas inhibited their growth. The dripping heat of summers in the Deep South withered the enthusiasm of industries to locate there. Air conditioning changed all this.

The extraordinary influence of Carrier's invention on American society is illustrated by its introduction into movie theaters in the 1920s. The film industry had a problem. Summertime's hot, sticky temperatures combined with the natural body heat of an audience crammed into a confined space to create an insufferable environment for movie-goers. As a result, the theaters saw the size of their audience, and consequently the size of their profits, slump during the summer months. Willis Carrier's invention offered a cool solution.

In 1925, Carrier persuaded the Paramount Pictures Corporation to install his system in the Rivoli Theater - their flagship movie house under construction on Times Square in New York City. The system was ready for its test with an actual audience by the theater's opening on Memorial Day. The experiment was an outstanding success. People flocked to the Rivoli as many to enjoy the cool relief from the heat as to see the movie. Over the next five years, Carrier installed his climate control technology in 300 movie theaters across the country. Air conditioning transformed the summer months from a financial write-off for the movie industry to its most profitable season of the year.

"Yes, the people are going to like it."

On the night of the test, the most important member of the audience was Adolph Zukor, president of Paramount Pictures. He was anxious to see the audience's reaction. Carrier describes the night:

". . . Typical of show business, the opening of the Rivoli was widely advertised and its air conditioning system heralded along Broadway. Long before the doors opened, people lined up at the box office - curious about 'cool comfort' as offered by the managers. It was like a World Series crowd waiting for bleacher seats. They were not only curious, but skeptical-all of the women and some of the men had fans-a standard accessory of that day. . . .

Patrons line up to enter the
Rivoli Theater

Among the spectators was Adolph Zukor. I recall how quiet and reserved he was when he walked in and took a seat in the balcony. Zukor may have come from California, but he was there to be shown!

Final adjustments delayed us in starting up the machine, so that the doors opened before the air conditioning system was turned on. The people poured in, filled all the seats, and stood seven deep in the back of the theater. We had more than we had bargained for and were plenty worried. From the wings we watched in dismay as two thousand fans fluttered. We felt that Mr. Zukor was watching the people instead of the picture-and sawall those waving fans!

It takes time to pull down the temperature in a quickly filled theater on a hot day, and a still longer time for a packed house. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the fans dropped into laps as the effects of the air conditioning system became evident. Only a few chronic fanners persisted, but soon they, too, ceased fanning. We had stopped them 'cold' and breathed a great sigh of relief.

We then went into the lobby and waited for Mr. Zukor to come downstairs. When he saw us, he did not wait for us to ask his opinion. He said tersely, 'Yes, the people are going to like it.'"

   This eyewitness account appears in: Ingels, Margaret, Willis Carrier: Father of Air Conditioning (1952); Ackerman, Marsha E., Cool Comfort: America's romance with air-conditioning (2002).

How To Cite This Article:
"Air Conditioning Goes to the Movies, 1925" EyeWitness to History, (2007).

Margaret Ingels, the author of the book from which this account is taken, was the first woman in America to earn a degree in mechanical engineering (and the 2nd woman to earn an engineering degree of any kind). She graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1916. She joined the Carrier Engineering Company the following year and became a life-long evangelist for air conditioning. She became a good friend of Willis Carrier and later wrote his biography.
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