Abadan: Hot, Hot, Hot!

Frederick C. Othman — June 28, 1951

Arash Norouzi

The Mossadegh Project | August 30, 2023                       

As the Iranian oil crisis raged, syndicated columnist Frederick Othman described his firsthand experience of the oppressive heat in Abadan, site of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company installations which had been been nationalized in April.

The Indianapolis Times newspaper in Indiana ran the column right beside their front page headline: Iranians Confiscate Main British Office As Tankers Pull Out. Beneath the column, their news editor added his own commentary on his time in Abadan.

‘Hot as the Hinges of You Knew What’—

Abadan Doesn’t Mind 130°-140°
But When It Gets to 101° It’s Cool


WASHINGTON, June 28 — I don’t believe I ever told you about the time I lost my appetite in Abadan.

This is a small island at the top of the Persian Gulf. It is as hot as the hinges of you know what. In the middle of it is the greatest oil refinery in the world. This the Iranians are trying to take away from the British.

Warships are hovering in there now, and the diplomats are hinting darkly that here may come the shot that starts World War III.

Abadan is front page news and insofar as I know nobody has attempted to tell in print how it smells or looks, or how a Britisher manages to live there at all. Even without a native in a goatskin hat pointing a gun in his direction. Bear with me and I’ll do a little recollecting:

I WAS pounding over from Cairo after the war in an Army DC-4; down below the landscape was mostly nothing—colored tan. This went on for hour after hour. The sun went down and—bang—it was dark. Pitch black.

The plane did a little pitching, too, on account of the hot air eddying up from the earth.

We started to come in for a landing at Abadan, finally, and there through the plane window I saw one of the most startling sights in my life—thousands of electric lights studding the landscape below for mile after mile, almost as if Los Angeles had been transplanted into the wilderness.

This was the oil refinery. Soon we could get a whiff of its fumes. As the plane bounced lower, the temperature grew hotter.

WHEN I stepped out on the runway at about 10 p. m. the heat hit me like a board across the face. The odor of the cooking oil everywhere was present; so were Iranians in their peculiar hats of shaggy goat, manning the fire extinguishers and hauling out the gas tanks.

The thermometer read 101. The locals said this was a cool evening.

Dinner in the restaurant was waiting. I ordered eggs. A barefoot waiter brought ‘em, fried, and left the door to the kitchen open.

Through that I could see the cook. He was a gent in a goatish cap, gray-colored diapers and nothing else. The sight of him, plus the blast of hot air carrying the odor of burned grease, took away my desire for hen fruit.

I had to spend several hours in Abadan while the mechanics labored on the flying machine. It was a good thing, they said, I’d arrived at night or they could have done no work.

IT GETS so hot by day on this fantastic island that no man dares touch his monkey wrench for fear of blistering his hands. For day after day and week after week the temperature hovers between 130 and 140 degrees. The refinery workers do most of their labor by night; in the day when it’s too hot even to think, they try to sleep.

They have air conditioning in their house, free movies and no telling what all else. They earn hefty bonuses for enduring the place at all, but they take furloughs every few months. If they don’t the heat gets ‘em and they go haywire mentally.

THE NATIVES have a village near the refinery. This generally is off-bounds for foreigners, simply because the chance is too great for contracting one or another Near Eastern disease.

My informants reported there wasn’t much in town to see, anyhow.

Never did I see people so envious as were they when I climbed back aboard my flying machine. When we’d gone upstairs into the cool again I cracked open a small can of genuine, germ-free American orange juice.

I don’t think I've tasted anything so good since.

Indianapolis Times — June 28, 1951

You Can’t See For the Sun at ‘City of Blind’

Times News Editor

FRED OTHMAN isn’t kidding when he says the heat in Abadan is like the hinges of hell.

It’s the kind of hot air blast that seems to suck the wind right out of you. And when there’s a shift in the wind from the Persian Gulf you get an idea of what that baked chicken in the oven feels like.

I’ve seen GIs douse themselves with a bucket of water while wearing sun-tans to get relief. By the time they’d walked 20 feet back to their barracks they were as dry as a freshly pressed suit.

Even at night you can soak a GI towel with water, place it on your bunk and lay on top of it to get a little relief. In a matter of minutes it’s crinkly dry.

ONLY ONE place I know of that’s hotter. And that’s a few miles north to a little spot called Dizful. [Dezful, in Khuzestan province] There, they claim to have the hottest sun in the world.

The British once reported there that they broke a thermometer in the sun at 189.3 degrees. Anyway, the natives can’t stand it. They live underground to escape the heat.

And when they come up in the sun they can’t see. It’s called the “City of the Blind.”

During the war, the GIs stayed on top of the ground—working in a (cool?) truck assembly plant.

Tehran, Iran Labeled "The Craziest City in the World" (1951) Tehran, Iran Labeled “The Craziest City in the World” (1951)

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Related links:

Stifling Heat, Hot Tempers Grip Abadan In Oil Impasse (July 1951)

Where It’s Really Hot | U.S. editorial, August 4, 1953

Iranian Youth in Indiana: “Iran is friendly with the West” (July 1951)

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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