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How air conditioning helped Ronald Reagan become president

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tags: Ronald Reagan, air conditioning



Best-selling author Steven Johnson tells Jonathan Wright, BBC History Magazine’s TV editor, about the weird and wonderful revelations that feature in his new show, How We Got To Now, including how air conditioning helped the election of Ronald Reagan as American president…

Q: Can you tell us a little about the series? An important element seems to be unexpected heroes, researchers who don’t become famous through their work.

A: That’s important and there are two other elements. We’re trying to look at these innovations or inventions that are so common now that we don’t think of them as being about technology or new ideas, so a glass of clean water coming out of a tap that doesn’t give us cholera a few hours later, for example. That’s an extraordinary invention: that you can do that in a city of 10 million people and not worry about epidemic diseases.

We also look at the unintended consequences of all these inventions and technologies as they ripple through society, so you think you’re solving one problem but you end up triggering a set of changes that you would have had a very hard time predicting. Air conditioning comes to the home through window units after the Second World War, and in the United States that triggers this huge migration of people to the southern states, to the sunbelt, to the desert states.

That in turn ends up changing the political map of the United States, which ends up being crucial to the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980 because he builds a sunbelt coalition that didn’t exist 40 years before. At some fundamental level, air conditioning is a big part of Ronald Reagan’s election. ...

Read entire article at History Extra


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