IC and AC: Cool New York Inventions
By Laurie Lewis
With summer soon upon us, you may be thinking of ways to keep cool. Two of the best approaches are to indulge in ice cream and to crank up the air conditioner. Both of these heat-beaters debuted in New York.
Okay, ice cream is a lot older than New York. But two ways to eat it on the go—ice cream cones and ice cream sandwiches—were creations of New York street vendors, if you can believe urban legends.
In the late nineteenth century, pushcart vendors sold ice cream in small glass containers. The treat was called a penny lick, because it cost a penny and the customer would lick it from the glass cup. When it was all gone, the customer gave the cup back to the vendor, who rinsed it out for the next buyer. Not the most sanitary practice. Plus, the cups sometimes broke and customers occasionally walked off with them, raising overhead for a business operating for just a penny a serving.
In 1896, Italo Marchiony, who sold ices and ice cream from a cart on Wall Street, found a better way to peddle his treats. He created an edible container by folding a thin waffle, hot off the iron, into a cone shape. It hardened as it cooled, making a perfect holder for ice cream. The novelty became an instant hit.
Illustration by Jessie Curtis Shepherd
The ice cream cone went from the streets of New York to the national and international stage in 1904, when St. Louis hosted a World’s Fair. A popular concessionaire at the fair sold ice cream; in all probability, it was Marchiony. The vendor beside the ice cream man sold a crisp Syrian wafer called zalabia. When demand outpaced the supply of ice cream holders, the two concessionaires teamed up; the zalabia vendor rolled his cookie into a cone, which the ice cream seller filled.
Another New York pushcart vendor came up with a different way to enjoy ice cream. His name is not known, but his territory was the Bowery, north of Marchiony’s Wall Street beat. In 1899, this peddler put a thin slab of ice cream between two wafers, creating the ice cream sandwich. According to a contemporary newspaper account, business was so brisk that the vendor had no time to make change and insisted on receiving the exact price, one cent.
Around the same time, a young engineer came up with a much bigger invention that we associate with summer: air conditioning. Willis Carrier invented air conditioning not to keep people comfortable in hot, humid weather but to solve an industrial problem.
Humidity was hampering production in a Brooklyn printing plant. As still happens, each color of ink was put into the press separately, and previous colors had to dry thoroughly to avoid bleeding and smearing. High humidity meant the ink took longer to dry. In addition, the paper would wrinkle when it absorbed moisture from the air. This also threw off the four-color printing process, which required precise alignment as one color after another went through the press.
Carrier created a contraption that had air passing through water-cooled coils and was calibrated to keep humidity constant at 55 percent. In July 1902, the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn became the first building ever to have air conditioning. It wasn’t called that at the time. Carrier patented his invention as an Apparatus for Treating Air.
During the subsequent decades, Carrier kept modifying his system as he installed it in other factories and public buildings. In the early 1920s, he perfected an apparatus to keep movie theaters comfortable on hot and humid days. Soon crowds were flocking to the movies in sticky weather to enjoy a few hours of comfort.
Home air conditioning was not common until after World War II. Decreasing costs as time went by changed it from a luxury item to a must-have.
The next time you flip on the AC or enjoy an ice cream cone or sandwich, thank these New Yorkers who came up with clever ideas to make summer bearable.
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Mansions of Fifth Avenue
You can still find magnificent mansions built about a hundred years ago on the Upper East Side. These freestanding and rowhouse mansions are interspersed among luxury apartment buildings---mansions in the sky. Hear about these palatial homes and the people who lived in them---New York's own rich and famous.
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400 Years of History in Less Than a Mile
Lower Broadway is like an illustrated history textbook, with the pages out of order. This stretch of Manhattan reflects American history from colonial times to the present. Take a walk in the footsteps of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Hear stories about heroes like them and rogues like "Boss" Tweed. See beautiful buildings, including the first department store.
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Central Park: Highlights of the Southern Half
In the southern half of Central Park, you'll recognize some of the most filmed and photographed sights in New York, including Strawberry Fields, the Sheep Meadow, and Bethesda Terrace. The park beckons in all kinds of weather. It's especially popular in the summer, but we'll be exploring it at a time when the crowds are less dense.
Enjoy the longest day of the year with an early evening walk through the southern half of Central Park. Join Laurie on Thursday, June 21, at 6 PM to celebrate the summer solstice. Email her (firstname.lastname@example.org) to reserve a place and to learn where to meet.
Central Park: Marvels of the Northern Half
The northern end of Central Park features some of the city's most surprising landscapes. Did you know there are woods, complete with a lovely creek with waterfalls, in the middle of Manhattan? Have you ever visited New York's own Secret Garden? Are you familiar with the role this area played in early American wars? Discover the fascinating but lesser known part of Central Park on this tour.
Join Alan on Thursday, June 28, at 11 AM to explore the northern part of Central Park. To reserve a spot on the tour and to learn where to meet, email him at email@example.com.
Hidden Treasures of the Financial District
Walking through the canyons of Wall Street, you can easily miss gems hidden in plain sight, including relics of the Dutch and English colonial periods and park-like oases. Discover these secrets while seeing major attractions like the New York Stock Exchange and the Charging Bull statue.
Laurie offers this tour on Saturday, June 30, at 1 PM. To reserve a place and to learn the meeting location, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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