Washington D.C. as a capital is as unique as the United States itself. The site selected for the city was resultant of a compromise. Alexander Hamilton representing the interest of northern states wanted the seat for the new federal government to be located north of the Potomac River. Thomas Jefferson led a coalition of southern states who wanted the capital placed in a location friendly to the agricultural interests in those territories. President George Washington, a former surveyor, chose the site where the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, and Tiber Creek flowed together, and the city was officially founded in 1790 after Maryland and Virginia ceded land to this new “federal district.”
The site selected by President George Washington and city planner Pierre Charles L’Enfant was a mix of tidal flats, forested hills, bluffs, farm land, and waterways. From its inception and well into the 19th century, the summer heat, humidity, drainage issues and mosquitoes gave the city a horrible reputation. The rich and famous would often flee Washington for summer estates in New England or the mountains. The president and their families were no exception.
The Lincoln family often enjoyed spending summer days at the Soldiers’ Home, a forested oasis outside of town. President Cleveland and his family spent the month of summer at “Red Top,” their home on the bluffs in the city’s sparsely settled northwest suburbs. Ulysses S. Grant had a summer seaside cottage in Long Branch, New Jersey. Theodore and Edith Roosevelt, along with their six children, had a summer home at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, New York and a rustic cabin at Pine Knot near Charlottesville, Virginia.
Tragedy brought air conditioning of a sort to the White House in the summer of 1881. After the assassination attempt that would claim his life, to keep mortally wounded President James A. Garfield comfortable U.S. Navy engineers prepared an improvised air conditioner that consisted of an electric blower that forced air through a box with cotton screens kept wet with ice and ice water. The device pushed the temperature in Garfield’s room below 80 degrees and to a degree lowered the humidity.
President William Howard Taft suffered terribly in the heat as he weighed nearly 350-pounds. Building on the air conditioning experiment used for President Garfield, in the expanded West Wing in 1909 he had electric fans that blew over great bins of ice in the attic forced through the air ducts of the heating system. It proved to be ineffective and was quickly abandoned. His next endeavor was construction of a screened sleeping room on the roof of the the White House.
President Wilson chose to emulate President Roosevelt during the summer of 1914 by moving his office into a tent on the southwest corner of the White House at the end of the Rose Garden. The tent was fully equipped with a desk, chairs, electric lights, and a telephone.
After extensive damage caused by a Christmas Eve fire in 1929, the West Wing was rebuilt to include a central air-conditioning system installed by the Carrier Engineering Company. In 1933 air conditioning units were added to President Franklin Roosevelt’s private quarters. Interestingly President Roosevelt preferred to work in the Oval Office in his shirt-sleeves with the windows open rather than use the air conditioner.
Fortunately you don’t have to escape to a summer cottage or be as innovative as President Taft to beat the heat in western Arizona. All you need to do is call the professionals at Airzona Heating and Cooling Comfort Solutions.
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America