How Philadelphians Handled Heatwaves In 1776
By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – If you think it’s hot today, just imagine what it was like in 1776 with no air conditioning.
“During June and July of 1776, temperatures in Philadelphia were in the upper 80s and the low 90s.”
Keri Diethorn is the Chief Curator at Independence Hall. She says before air conditioning and electric fans, Philadelphians just had to sweat it out.
“You would open the windows and doors in your house regardless of the fact that you didn’t have window screens to keep out the flies and mosquitos. Lots of times houses would have a trap door in the ceiling that opened up to the roof. It was common to have a bird fly into your house and you’d have to get rid of it. Mice and rats would be a problem.
Historic Philadelphia, Inc. reenactor Samuel Wetherall is a businessman from the 1700s. He says most folks wore light materials like linen and tossed the wigs.
“I’ve never worn a wig. Some people will put on a wig because of hygiene when they can’t wash their hair. During my day, people used common sense. You didn’t go out in the noon sun unless you were are farmer or something like that. And if you were, you didn’t wear a business suit like what I have on.”
“Women in the 18th century wore a tight corset, a long skirt, long sleeves, stuff we would just die in today. We’d never wear it,” says Diethorn. “The good news is the fabrics they used. Cotton and linen are appropriate because they breathe really easily. No synthetic fabrics in the 18th century…no polyester back then.”
So what’s the most memorable thing about the heat in 1776?
“The eighteenth century was a lot smellier than the 21st century. People, animals…bad. Very bad,” says Diethorn.