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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

“That helped a little bit, but it didn't help a bunch,” she said. “It never did cool off, even at night.”

Under the stars

Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, said that in Oklahoma City that summer, “the only air conditioning would have been large evaporative water coolers featured at downtown movie palaces such as the Criterion or the Midwest.”

“Some relief could be found in swimming pools, but even those were hard to find,” he said.

“The old Belle Isle swimming beach, located next to the power plant near present-day Penn Square Mall, was already largely abandoned. The most popular swimming beach was the lake at Lincoln Park. You can still see the old bath house on the back nine of the west course at Lincoln Park.

“Springlake Park featured a concrete pool.”

Getting out in the country did not require as much time in 1936 as it would in 2012, he said. The northernmost neighborhood was Nichols Hills, founded in 1928 between Western and May north of NW 63. The southernmost neighborhoods were close to Capitol Hill, where oil had been discovered in 1928, and Stockyards City, founded in 1909 on the far west side of town and south of the river.

In 1936, Oklahoma City had 43 total days of triple-digit heat, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

Blackburn said that in 1936, some Oklahoma City residents at night placed their bed in front of south windows or pulled the beds out onto screened-in sleeping porches.

Or, as with Helms' family and some neighbors, they slept under the stars.

“We had ice, but we used it in the ice box to keep our food cool,” said Helms, 88. “You got one chunk of ice in your tea when you had supper, and that was about it. Poor Mama, she'd have to go in the house and cook. It was just so hot in there.

“It was absolutely miserable.”

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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