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People Invented Some Weird Contraptions To Stay Cool Before Air Conditioning.

Google patent database
Hellvig Prevot received a patent in 1871 for this ice-filled hat.

It’s safe to say many an Austinite woke up today, looked at the forecast and, possibly, wondered what fresh, near-literal hell they’d unknowingly stumbled into during their Sunday night slumber. It’s hot.

But, hey, at least there’s conditioned air, because before that, people went to some pretty strange lengths to save themselves (and their horses) from the immutably oppressive sun.

We combed through Google's patent database to showcase some of the hotter inventions to mitigate the summer heat. Spoiler alert: A lot of them are hat-based.


Horace Greeley Morrow’s 1889 invention had a simple goal of eliminating heat prostration “and keep the head cool and to prevent the rays of the sun from causing sun-stroke, vertigo, or headache.” The ring, which was affixed to the brim of a hat, would stretch a sponge over the user’s skull, naturally. A big boon for Morrow’s invention was its versatility, as people without a sponge could readily substitute it with quite possibly the most Victorian-era option imaginable: a cabbage leaf.


Benjamin Franklin Weishampel and William P. Towles, presumably, had a fair amount of shin sweat. In 1884, the Baltimore-based inventors set about to make “new and useful improvements in drawers, whereby the drawers will be well ventilated, as to be cool and agreeable in the summer.” How? You may ask. Mesh below the knees, of course.

These handsome undergarments would give the wearer a pretty winsome breeze during a midsummer’s jaunt on a penny-farthing.

'Summer House'

What’s better than catching up on the latest penny dreadful in the shade? Catching up on the latest penny dreadful in the shade while being blasted with luxuriant cascades of air from a fan powered by a neoclassical water feature in Francis Blumle’s 1901 invention.

'Medical bed'

This 1899 invention was meant to keep hospital patients well ventilated. While it’s a safe bet that the bed partly achieved that goal, it’s also a safe bet that it terrified patients who were strapped to it.

'Cooler for beverages'

1894 may have been a simpler time, but people still hated warm beer.

'Improvement in Sun-Stroke Protectors for Head Coverings'

In 1871, all you needed was ice, some sawdust and this handsome cap to eliminate your risk of sunstroke.

Inventor Hellvig Prevôt suggested sawdust acted as an insulator:

“As the ice melts its moisture will be absorbed by the sawdust,” he wrote. “The bottom of the box is within close proximity of or in absolute contact with the head of the person or animal, and it cools it by means of the cold substance which it supports.”

'Ventilating device'

This invention is nice because it’s essentially a clarinet on the back of a chair that blows a jet of air in your face.


The next time somebody laments societal progression, remind them that, at the very least, people aren’t hanging babies in cages out of windows anymore. The 1907 filing with the patent office notes this “hammock” functions “more particularly as a bed or cradle for infants, but it is also desirable for adults.”

'Shield for Horses'

In 1869, John Anderson sought to protect the “little brain” of equines about town.

The shield was placed “over and [covered] the junction of the cerebellum, or little brain, with the spinal marrow, which lies near the surface, and is quickly affected by the heat of the sun,” he wrote in his patent filing.

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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