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Tampa One of "Cities That Wouldn't Exist Without Air Conditioning"

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Steve Newborn
/
WUSF

As U.S. cities are experiencing some of the warmest temperatures on record, it's easy to take for granted the ability to feel almost instant relief from oppressive heat with the push of a button or the flip of a switch. Today about 87 percent of U.S. households have an air conditioning unit.  

But at the turn of the 20th century, when Willis Carrier of New York invented the first modern electrical air conditioning unit, the goal wasn't to keep homes and offices cool on hot summer days. Rather, the device became popular with industries from textiles to cotton to tobacco. It wasn't until some decades later that human comfort became an important use, especially in the South; first with air-conditioned movie theaters and then in department stores.

It wasn't until the beginning of World War II that homes in southern U.S. cities began using air conditioning units. By 1955, one in every 22 American homes had air conditioning. In the South, that number was about 1 in 10, according to the historian Raymond Arsenault [PDF]. Since this increase in air conditioning use, many of these Southern cities experienced a population boom.

The Atlantic Cities magazine is reporting that Tampa is number three on the list of U.S. cities that owe their postwar explosive growth to the humble air conditioner.  (Not surprisingly, Florida cities dominate the list. Miami claims the number one spot; Orlando clicks in at number four.)