1936 and 2012 share the mark for the all-time maximum temperature on record in Oklahoma City

A resident and a historian talk about some of the differences people faced in battling the Oklahoma heat in the days before air conditioning.
by Bryan Painter Modified: August 9, 2012 at 8:18 pm •  Published: August 10, 2012

Grace Helms slept at night on a cot along the west side of her family's two-story house in the Capitol Hill neighborhood during the summer of 1936.

That way, the 12-year-old could maybe rest a little longer in the cool of the shade the next morning.

That summer, her three brothers put water on their sheets before going to bed. Her parents took their double bed outside.

In the daytime, they'd fold the cotton mattress back over itself so it wouldn't get so hot.

On Aug. 3 of this year, a high of 113 degrees tied for the all-time maximum temperature for Oklahoma City on records dating to 1891.

It tied with the 113 degrees of Aug. 11, 1936.

This summer, the temperatures have been bumping up against a few marks set in 1936.

Among those, Oklahoma City had 22 consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures in 1936 — a record.

This summer, Oklahoma City reached triple-digits on 18 straight days, but missed it Sunday by one degree to end the streak.

Oklahoma City's temperatures climbed to triple digits Monday through Thursday, leaving the city with highs of 100 degrees or more on 22 of the past 23 days.

While the numbers from 1936 and 2012 are similar, the differences in battling the heat are numerous.

1936 in Oklahoma City

A report titled “Heat in City Boils to 113.1 for New High” ran on the cover of The Oklahoman on Aug. 12, 1936.

The heat was horrendous throughout Oklahoma that summer.

Included in the story about the record was a paragraph saying a man died in Oklahoma City, raising “the day's heat fatalities in Oklahoma to seven.”

One of Helms' neighbors suffered heat stroke that summer, and “they wrapped her in sheets and kind of packed her in ice to keep her temperature down.”

With no air conditioning and a small metal fan that only circulated hot air, her family improvised.

In the afternoon, Helms would sit in the backyard in the shade of the house, a wet towel over her head, her feet in a washtub filled with water and Louisa May Alcott's “Little Women” in her hands.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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