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Sure, it’s hot out today, and 2015 was the hottest year on record, but the heat wave of July and early August of 1916 was far worse. Scores of people died because of the oppressive heat.

1916 heat wave.

Yes, the heat was a killer in 1916, claiming scores of lives that summer.

Sitting in an air conditioned office, after driving an air conditioned car from my air conditioned home, it’s easy to forget that air conditioning wasn’t even invented until 1902. Even so, it wasn’t readily available until the 1920s, when going to the movie theater offered not only relief from boredom but also relief from heat.

In fact, Northern Indiana Public Service Co. was advertising electric fans in 1916, a relatively new device for cooling homes. And during the summer of 1916, the electric company had run out and it became newsworthy when the company got a new supply to sell.

1916 heat wave

NIPSCO put electric fans back on the market during the 1916 heat wave when it got a new shipment.

And while electricity in homes was available in 1916, that’s the case for urban areas, not for the rural areas. Rural electrification wasn’t begun in earnest until the Rural Electrification Act of 1935.

Gas hot water heaters were also being marketed as a way to keep homes cool. No more lighting a coal fire to heat water on the stove.

1916 heat wave

Northern Indiana Public Service Co. marketed this hot water heater as a way to keep homes cooler. This ad was published July 29, 1916, in The Times.

Getting cool in 1916, especially in the urban areas, wasn’t easy. Workers even shut down the mills because it was too hot to work there.

1916 heat wave

Factory workers closed mills because of the high heat in 1916.

Ice cream offered temporary, though delicious, relief.

1916 heat wave

What's your favorite hot weather food? Why, ice cream of course! Or so it seems from this Aug. 4, 1916, ad in The Times.

Today, we worry about the elderly and the very young succumbing to heat, but anyone could be affected by it back in 1916 – even a 31-year-old man.

1916 heat wave

Heat is hardest on the elderly and the very young, but this Aug. 14, 1916, story reports the 102-degree weather claimed the life of a 31-year-old man.

Ice harvested from places like Cedar Lake was the means of keeping food cool, before refrigerators became popular, but the supply of ice was an issue in 1916.

Price of ice

In the days before everyone had refrigerators, ice was essential. As this Aug. 11, 1916, story showed, a heat wave that summer drove up the price of ice in Gary.

1916 heat wave

Hammond was going through 200 tons of ice a day, The Times reported on Aug. 22, 1916,

There was talk of Chicago getting ice that should have been kept in Northwest Indiana, at least according to some people, which exacerbated the supply problems.

1916 heat wave

"Chicago hogs our supply" of ice, according to this Aug. 8, 1916, story in The Times.

1916 heat wave

Two ice companies in the Region ran out of product, according to this Aug. 21, 1916, story in The Times.

1916 heat wave

Humpfer Bros. told customers in this Aug. 11, 1916, ad in The Times not to worry about the store's meat; the scarcity of ice wasn't an issue.

Flint Lake north of Valparaiso was so hot that folks there even thought ice would be a solution.

1916 heat wave

It was so hot in 1916 that ice was put back into Flint Lake in hopes of cooling the water. This story ran July 29, 1916.

There were news reports of mercury thermometers bursting ....

1916 heat wave

Mercury erupted from the thermometer, and the man who touched it got burned, according to this July 29, 1916, story.

1916 heat wave

The mercury rose so high it broke the thermometer, The Times reported July 27, 1916.

and of life where it's always cooler.

1916 heat wave

When it's really hot out, readers want stories about where it's really cold, of course. Here's one of those stories, from The Times on July 19, 1916.

The only real relief came from going to the beach, and even that became a big issue in 1916.

1916 heat wave

It was so hot in 1916, and the Hammond beach was so popular, that a two-hour limit was placed on beach visits to allow more people in.

1916 heat wave

The heat sent bathers to the beach in droves during the 1916 heat wave. The prompted discussion on July 20, 1916, of enlarging the Hammond bath house.

1916 heat wave

Swimming at night in Lake Michigan saved many lives during the 1916 heat wave, according to this item in The Times on Aug. 5, 1916.

Hammond had a nice beach, and the Hammond Beach Inn offered meals as well as access to the lake. That building was where the Hammond Marina and Horseshoe Casino are now.

1916 heat wave

The Hammond Beach Inn, promoted in this Aug. 15, 1916, ad in The Times, was at Calumet Avenue and the lakefront — the current site of the Hammond Marina and Horseshoe Casino.

Gary, however, didn’t have its own beach.

1916 heat wave

C.D. Davidson of the Gary & Interurban system urged the establishment of a lakefront park in Gary, served by a streetcar for a nickel fare. In this Aug. 23 1916, story in The Times, Davidson said the beach could save babies' lives.

And the issue of whether there would be a national park in the Dunes wasn’t settled yet – and wouldn’t be for another half century. Indiana Dunes State Park didn’t even exist yet, though it soon would.

1916 heat wave

The 1916 heat wave prompted discussion of granting creating lakefront access to citizens, long before U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky's Marquette Plan would make the same plea.

Fashions were changing, and there was a debate over what type of bathing suit was considered immodest.

1916 heat wave

On Aug. 22, 1916, The Times published a photo showing the type of scanty bathing costumes worn at the beaches in the Region that year.

1916 heat wave

Men showed up in "immodest" bathing suits at Hammond's Lake Front Park in 1916 and were turned away, according to this July 18, 1916, story in The Times.

Modesty was an issue in the water, too, with some boys not behaving as they should around girls.

1916 heat wave

"Human subs" swam under girls and grabbed them, much to the consternation of girls and park officials. This July 26, 1916, story tells what was happening then.

1916 heat wave

Boys weren't saints in 1916, either. This story was published in The Times on July 27, 1916.

They weren’t the only ones who had issues with modesty that summer.

1916 heat wave

No swimsuits, no problem! At least that's what they thought at first. This story was published in The Times July 29, 1916.

1916 heat wave

In Racine, Wisconsin, young women decided if they couldn't cool off at the beach, they would on the streets, much to the chagrin of shocked churchgoers, according to this Aug. 14, 1916, story in The Times.

1916 heat wave

What's your favorite hot weather food? Why, ice cream of course! Or so it seems from this Aug. 4, 1916, ad in The Times.

The heat must have gotten to this girl who didn't seem to remember that sharks, who live in salt water, can't survive in Lake Michigan.

1916 heat wave

Sharks in Lake Michigan? A young bather created quite a scare, though, according to this July 26, 1916, story in The Times

And think of how the police officers, forced to wear heavy woolen coats, must have felt.

1916 heat wave

Even during the oppressive heat, police uniforms made matters worse. This July 27, 1916, story tells about it.

At the end of the summer, the death toll was high. Makes you feel better about your air conditioning in 2016, doesn’t it?

Politics/History Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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