PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - I grew up thinking a kiosk was one of those tiny stores in the middle of the mall that kept getting in the way. Actually, there weren’t any malls when I grew up. That’s a memory from when my kids were kids. I’m still allowed into malls and when I go, I notice the kiosks are still there. But recently I learned there was a different kiosk, one that played a vital role in the dissemination of weather information in the early 1900s. It’s time came and left just as quickly, like a passing weatherperson in the night.
In the late 1890s, the U.S. Weather Bureau, as it was then called, was trying to figure out ways to get weather information out quicker. As it was, they were pretty much tied to newspapers and the information, including forecasts, was always at least a day old. (They also mailed forecasts in those days but that’s a different tale.)
Radio wasn’t a thing yet so someone came up with the idea of putting weather stations and weather information where lots of people were. Downtown areas. Near train stations. They would be called weather kiosks and they would provide real-time weather information to the public for the first time. One of the first was located in Washington, D.C.
They were beautiful and they were huge. They weighed over 3,500 pounds, were made mainly of cast iron and stood 12 feet tall. And here’s the cool thing. Inside was the current temperature, a high/low thermometer, a rain gauge, barometer and hygrometer. Also, the local weather service posted the latest forecasts and weather news around the country.
Within 10 years, weather kiosks became the thing to have in your city if your city was anything. By 1908, Buffalo, Cincinnati and San Diego were clamoring to get one. Honolulu, too. They were quite the attraction. In one city, the noontime “official” record keeping by a Weather Bureau employee would draw dozens of people to watch a person open a glass window and read weather instruments. Iola, KS, population 9,000 got one! Well, as they say, times were different.
Even into the early 1920s, weather kiosks where still very popular but with dozens (maybe hundreds) of them in place around the country, the complaints started.
The first and loudest complaints came from the city leaders. They said the kiosks were reading temperatures too hot and making their cities seem uninhabitable in the summer. Also, police observed that there was a lot of loitering around our fair weather kiosks, with some being used as a meeting place for illicit “trysts.” And then there were the people who thought they were just big mailboxes and dropped their mail next to them.
Problems, problems, problems.
But mostly it was radio that did in our poor kiosks. As the industry of radio broadcasting began to grow in the 1920s, you didn’t have to walk downtown to check the weather. Someone on the radio would tell you. It was over as quickly as it began.
By the early 1930s, only 30 or so weather kiosks remained and all of those were slated for removal. A few, stripped of their weather instruments, continued to hold vigil outside various public buildings across the land, but the weather kiosk was dead.
There is only one left today that we know of in Knoxville, TN. It doesn’t have any weather instruments in it but was refurbished in the early 2000s and placed outside one of the buildings containing the Eastern Tennessee History Museum. Makes me want to hop on a plane to Knoxville and check it out.
By the way, most of the cities which wanted kiosks got them. Including Honolulu. However, there is no record that any city in Arizona either requested or erected a weather kiosk.
Like folks here needed to know the temperature.