Six of History’s Smartest, Weirdest and Most Interesting Inventions for Beating the Heat

From a bicycle mister to ice energy, here are a few innovative ways for cooling down

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The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History holds this patent model for a Gorrie ice machine, the first mechanical refrigeration or ice-making machine the U.S. Patent Office patented. National Museum of American History

This year is set to be the hottest on record, surpassing even the average global temperature of last year, which climate researchers considered to be the highest in more than 4,000 years. Indoor air conditioning has become fairly ubiquitous in the United States—some 87 percent in this country have either central or window A/C units. But it hasn't always been this way. And for much of the world, it's still not—in Mexico, for example, only 13 percent of the population lives with air conditioning. But nothing sparks innovation, it seems, quite like sitting around feeling miserable. Here are a handful of the wildest, most interesting innovations in cooling down. 

Ventilating Hats

A gentleman should be able to wear full evening dress without his head getting hot, right? A Victorian era design called the “bona fide ventilating hat,” registered under Britain’s 1843 Utility Designs Act, is exactly what it sounds like: a traditional black topper with a mesh-covered porthole to allow air to flow across the wearer’s head. As goofy as they sound, ventilated hat designs have been showing up at patent offices on both sides of the Atlantic ever since. Pictured above is a more modern version.

The Aerated Shoe

Nobody likes getting sweaty feet. So how about a pair of shoes with a fan built in to the heel? That’s the idea of Anthony Farinello, Jr.’s 1960s patent for “air shoes.” When the user puts his feet in the loafers, it compresses a switch, automatically activating a circuit that powers the fan. The air blows through multiple tiny holes in the shoe, cooling the wearer’s feet. Though these shoes never seem to have hit the market, they appear to have inspired several similar designs, including the air-conditioned motorcycle boot and air-conditioned roller skates

The Bicycle Mister

The device in this 2014 patent filed by David and Cameron Carrozza is a sort of self-aimed water gun attached to the handlebars of a bicycle. The adjustable nozzle, powered by a mounted carbon dioxide cartridge, can produce a stream, spray or mist for a rider when conditions get hot. Unlike many patents, this one made it to market: you can buy yourself a Spruzza on-board cooling system and spray away on your next ride. 

Gorrie's Ice Machine

Nineteenth century Florida physician John Gorrie was convinced that the root of the Gulf Coast’s malaria problem had to do with the heat. He began cooling the sickroom of his Apalachicola infirmary with a pan of ice hung from the ceiling. But ice was difficult to get in Florida. So Gorrie began trying to invent a device to make it himself. His invention, which worked by compressing and decompressing air as it cooled, could be powered by steam, manpower or horsepower. It was patented in 1851, but it never took off. The Smithsonian's National Museum of American History holds the patent model for the Gorrie ice machine in its collections.

Gorrie blamed his troubles on Frederic Tudor, the so-called “Ice King,” who made a fortune shipping New England ice all over the world. Tudor, Gorrie claimed, had it out for him and was waging a campaign to ruin his reputation. Sadly, Gorrie had a nervous breakdown and died at 51. But he was right about ice making: modern devices work on a similar principle as his machine. 

Ice Energy

The Ice Bear air conditioner, which came to market in the early 2010s, works on so-called “ice energy.” It makes ice at night, when less demand on the power grid means cleaner energy. Then, during the hotter daytime hours when electricity production is more carbon-intense, it uses that stored ice for cooling. The makers of this technology claim it reduces peak cooling electricity of a building by 95 percent for up to six hours a day, cutting residential energy bills up to 40 percent. 

The Shotgun House

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(Wikimedia Commons)

New Orleans is famous for these ultra-narrow shotgun houses with their rooms in a straight row, so-called (according to some theories) because you can shoot a shotgun through the front door and have the bullets come straight out the back. Though the origins of this architectural style are not certain, many hypothesize they were based on a Haitian style, which was in turn based on a West African style. Whatever its roots, one of the shotgun house’s main benefits is its excellent passive cooling capacities, as air can flow directly from front to back.