How a Heat Wave Helped Make a President

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When you think of the biggest natural disasters in U.S. history, what are the first things that come to mind? Certainly Hurricane Katrina, maybe one of the several San Francisco earthquakes, the great Chicago fire. However, most people have never heard of one of the most lethal: the heat wave of 1896.

It was one of the worst natural disasters of the late 19th century, but it’s largely forgotten. It has likely passed into obscurity because it didn’t cause any dramatic physical damage.

In his new book, “Hot Time in the Old Town,” political historian Edward Kohn writes about how, over the course of 10 days in August, 1896, more than 1,300 people died in Manhattan alone as a result of the heat wave. He says that even today, heat waves kill more people than hurricanes, floods and tornadoes combined.

"İ think things like electric refrigeration and air conditioning and access to clean, cool water kind of lulls us into a feeling of false security. The heat is as dangerous as ever."

In the book, Kohn also writes about how that heat wave had surprising political ramifications. Primarily, it helped turn Theodore Roosevelt into the progressive who would later occupy the White House.

Edward Kohn joins us from Ankara, Turkey.