Do you have friends, or colleagues, who are baking, literally, in government offices in London, Lisbon or Madrid?
Or even closer to home in hot-humid, Houston, St. Louis, New Orleans or Washington, D.C. which is ground zero for hot air!
If so, send them your best wishes. Better yet see if somebody — a veteran old-timer would be best — in your agency can dig up an abandoned “Misery Index” meter. If found, and in the proper hands, it might allow sweltering civil servants around the globe to escape the office this week during the record heat wave, just as it did for tens of thousands of U.S. based feds back in the day. Before central (working) AC was standard. At least in this country.
The Misery Index “was part thermometer, part bulb and part infernal bureaucratic device” according to a brilliant Washington Post writer who covered the bureaucracy at the time. In the right hands, of a supervisor, the MI meter as used to determine if the combined indoor heat and humidity had hit levels allowing humans to be treated humanely. Like sent home. Although most offices were air-conditioned by the 1960s, many were individual window units that went on the blink a lot. Especially when it got hot and sticky and somebody turned them on. Then, often, nothing…
The MIMs were also great because the offices of the agency big wheels — the Secretary, Deputy, Commissioner — almost always had well-functioning ACs. So they were often blissfully unaware the troops were baking in other parts of the building. MIMs looked, if memory doesn’t fail me, like a small rubber bulb flame thrower and a clear light bulb. From the 1930s to the mid-1970s the Misery Index meter was used by supervisors to determine when workers in offices without AC could be sent home. Many homes and offices in Europe don’t have AC period. So they could probably use something like that this week as parts of western and northern Europe sizzle sans air conditioning. So what readings were the MIMs looking for? What did the combined indoor temperature and humidity have to be to mean freedom for the about-to-be-cooked? Here are the official numbers: