12 ways Iowans have beaten the heat throughout the years
Editor's note: This story was first published in 2019.
For those who believe "listicles" became a popular mode of article writing with the rise of the internet and Facebook, Des Moines Register writer Josephine Lowman would like to disagree with her 1954 column "Heed These Rules; Beat The Heat," in which she lists out six rules for staying cool during the heat waves of summer.
In the spirit of Lowman's practical guidance, the archives of the Register (and the Tribune) have been scoured for all the tips, tricks and pics of Iowans finding ways to beat the heat over the past century or so.
The hottest day of July on record in Des Moines came on July 25, 1936, when the temperature reached 110 degrees. One notable story of cooling down was included in that morning's Register, which reported that 95-year-old Civil War veteran John T. Gager of West Union swam with his great-grandchildren in a filled-in gravel pit on the family farm.
On Aug. 20, 1972, temperatures climbed up into the 90s, getting so hot that those at the Iowa State Fair that year sought out water wherever it could be found, including Victor, the wrestling bear, who took periodic dips in his pool.
From the Birdland pool on Des Moines' north side to the now-gone Sunset Beach, Iowans have always taken to the water wherever they can find it to cool off when the mercury starts to rise.
Eat the right kinds of food
In Lowman's 1954 column, she cautions against eating "high calorie and energy foods." In 2002, a reporter also cautioned to avoid protein and to eat small meals in a piece on how to stay cool.
Whether it's the 19th or the 20th century, it seems common sense says the same thing: don't over-eat or you'll overheat.
Cook the right kinds of food
There's nothing worse than making an already hot house or apartment even hotter by turning on an oven. And, as has already been established, there are certain foods that are better for the heat-enduring body than others. There are a lot of recommendations from throughout the years on what hot-weather food is best to make at home.
Sausage peanut-pilaf was the recommended mix-and-serve casserole to make when it's difficult for the cook "to become enthusiastic about anything more involved than cold cuts and iced tea" in July 1955. The following year, an article recommended making meals on the skillet.
In July 1960, the Register published a full-page feature on tuna, the perfect meal for cooling down, along with recipes for Lime-Tuna Ring, Hawaiian Tuna Salad and Tuna-Vegetable Salad.
By 1986, Dominoes was offering "Beat the Heat" specials, where you could get a six-pack of Coca-Cola for 99 cents with the purchase of a pizza, cutting out the need for tuna entirely.
Wear the right clothes
Wearing light clothing with white or bright colors is nearly universally recommended as an easy way to avoid getting overwhelmed by the hot temperatures.
Lowman advises "pedal-pushers and sundresses and halters." Over a decade later, she again told Register readers to wear cooler clothes, specifically cotton underwear over polyester and that shorter hair was cooler than longer, complex hairstyles. A column of hers on keeping cool from 1972 advises women to put waterproof makeup on their legs instead of wearing tights.
Styles have changed quite a bit in the intervening decades, thankfully. In the early 2000s, the Register reported "lightweight, light-colored clothing" and a hat as the recommendations for hot weather wear.
Nearly two decades later, it's safe to say that you should definitely consider your clothing before heading into the heat.
Wear suits made of asbestos
Please don't actually do this.
In 1956, the Register published a special dispatch from New York on a suit made of "woven asbestos the consistency of a light tweed with a coating of aluminum." It could reportedly withstand temperatures of 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
Needless to say, this did not become a popular way to fight back against the heat.
Seek out air conditioning whenever possible
Despite the New York Times article published earlier this month titled "Do Americans Need Air Conditioning?" air conditioning is very much the preferred way for most people to cool down and a necessity for the very young and the very old.
A 1962 summer report of teenagers, a demographic that knows the value of escaping the summer doldrums than most others, reported that they used swimming to cool down more than any other activity, but air-conditioned environments were a close second. Without climate-controlled office buildings to retreat to like many adults, teenagers of this period turned to bowling alleys and theaters instead.
Avoid the outdoors when the temperature is highest
It seems like common sense, but it really does help to be outside early in the morning or late in the evening when the sun isn't bearing down quite at its peak power.
This sort of mindest can only be taken as far as your fellow community members allow. In June 1953, a Des Moines man tried mowing his lawn at 4:50 a.m. and got a visit from the police after the neighbors decided it was too early for that kind of thing.
Advertisements for Mexsana topical powder can be found throughout the Register in the 1940s, when air conditioning was not quite as common or efficient as it is today. The powder, which mostly works to absorb moisture from your skin, is still available for purchase.
Chill out, dude
Register columnist Marian Matthews reminded her readers in 1955 that the best way to stay cool was to prepare for the heat, a task she defined as taking more "mental than physical effort."
Along with wearing cool clothes and bathing in cool water, Matthews also recommended you "keep your emotions and temper under control" in order to regulate the outer temperature's effect on your inner feeling.
Throw a party
1955 was an especially interesting year in the Register's tips for keeping cool. An article from that summer by Jean Tallman advises remedying the summer boredom and excessive heat by fixing an ice-filled pitcher and calling the neighbors.
Wear a bandana
Register writer Susan Kreimer reported a growing trend of people, mainly outdoor workers, using water-soaked bandanas as a way to keep cool in 1999.
Ignore it or accept it
Iowa summers are hot and humid, sometimes exceptionally so, and there's not much that can be done about it. As a community long based around agriculture, the state has a culture of acceptance around the weather and meteorological events.
When asked how she was dealing with a heatwave, Mrs. Charles Welter told the Register in 1956 that she and her husband "weren't trying to get away from it" and that they "were waxing the floors."
"I just take it, "I.J. Hawbaker of Adel told the Register in 1968. "There isn't much you can do about it."
"Are you really asking me this for The Register?" Becky Machovic of Mason City said when asked how she keeps cool that same year. "Keep cool? I don't, I really don't."
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