• Charles Gilbert Gates had two main claims to fame. First, he was the son of oil tycoon and shipping magnate John Warne Gates; second, he built the world’s first residence that boasted central air conditioning. He died before he ever got to flip the air conditioning “ON.”
  • To tell the story of Charles Gates and his air conditioned mansion, let’s start with the source of his money: his father, John Gates.
  • John Gates started his rise to riches as a salesman for a company that sold newly-invented barbed wire. He thought the cattle ranches of Texas would offer prime sales, but he just couldn’t convince ranchers to invest in this new-fangled fencing technology. Then he got the idea to make a huge spectacle out of inviting everyone to witness the effectiveness of the barbed wire first-hand. With a large crowd assembled, he instigated a cattle stampede. The stampede was stopped short by the barbed wire. Sales skyrocketed, and John Gates became the company’s #1 salesman.
  • Gates then started his own rival barbed wire firm, The American Steel and Wire Company, and was promptly sued for patent infringement by his former employer. To skirt the lawsuit, he tweaked the manufacturing design and produced a new type of barbed wire with a new patent. He subsequently bought out his former employer entirely. He then got into the burgeoning steel industry.
  • At that point, tycoon J.P. Morgan bought out John Gates entirely. Gates used the money to invest in the fledgling oil industry in Texas, founding the company that became Texaco. With oil money rolling in, he dabbled in railroads, power companies, the stock market, horse racing, high stakes gambling, and shipping. His money financed much of the construction of the shipping hub of Port Arthur, Texas.
  • Along the way, John Gates married and had one son, Charles, born in 1876. When John died of throat cancer in 1911, he left his $38 million ($1.3 billion today) fortune to his wife and son. His widow died shortly afterwards, and Charles became an instant millionaire. The first thing Charles did was to divorce his wife, quickly marrying another woman.
  • Charles then set out to build the largest, grandest, most expensive mansion that Minneapolis had ever seen.
  • He commissioned the construction of a 38,000 sq. ft. home. It took up three city lots. The AC unit stood 7 feet high, 6 feet wide, and was 20 feet long. Other luxuries included a ballroom, marble floors, and gold-plated plumbing.
  • The house was still under construction in 1913 when Charles Gates went to Wyoming for a hunting trip. He suffered a stroke-like seizure and died in his private rail car in Cody. He was 37 years old, and outlived his father by only two years.
    •His new wife and her three children from a former marriage oversaw the completion of the mansion, and lived there for three years. When the estate was settled, the bulk of the Gates family fortune went to distant relatives. At that point, the second wife moved out, and the mansion was purchased by a doctor. When the doctor died in 1929, the mansion went on the market. The stock market crashed, the Depression set in, and nobody could afford to purchase this behemoth of a home, much less pay for the maintenance. Historians estimate that it would cost around $1,500/month to cool such a large house today, even with modern equipment that’s about 60% more energy efficient than it was back then. In 1933, the house was stripped of all its fittings and then demolished.

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