Who Invented Air Conditioning?

 In Keeping Cool

In the sweltering heat of a Tallahassee summer, it can be easy to take your air conditioning for granted – until it stops working, that is. Many people can relate to the feeling of sticky heat that quickly results from a malfunctioning HVAC system. Today, more than 75 percent of American homes are equipped with an air conditioning system, and every single one can thank a man named Willis Carrier. Although he was not the first person to experiment with cooling technology, he is credited with inventing the air conditioning system we know today.

Early Technology

Long before Carrier invented air conditioning, people across the world attempted to cool their living spaces. In ancient Rome, many wealthy members of society used the aqueduct system to circulate cool water in the walls of their homes, effectively cooling the air inside. Only people with wealth and power were able to access these types of systems, however. It would be centuries before any type of cooling technology became accessible to the masses.

A man from Florida, Dr. John Gorrie, laid the groundwork for modern air conditioning in the mid-1800s. He believed that artificial cooling technology was key when it came to making hospital patients more comfortable. To accomplish this, he began working toward developing technology that could cool the air. Due to some challenges with his original design, and loss of financial support, his inventions never fully came to fruition. Historians do credit him, however, with inventing an ice-making machine that was patented in 1851.

Publishing Problems

More than half a century later, many people around the globe still wanted a solution that could provide relief from the excessive heat. In 1902, a publishing company called Brooklyn’s Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographic and Publishing Company was facing a big problem. During the warmer months, extreme heat and humidity outside was causing issues with their trade. The uncontrollable temperatures were causing printed pages to swell, and the ink to come out blurry, effectively ruining their work.

Frustrated, the company tasked an engineer named Willis Carrier with finding a solution that could cool the building and provide better printing conditions. He was only 25 years old at the time. Through a series of experiments, he found a solution: pushing air over steam coils filled with cold water. This system, aided by a large, industrial fan, caused excess humidity to condense on the steam coils, cooling the area around it. By solving the publisher’s problem, he had effectively invented air conditioning – or at least the technology that would lead to it.

Refining the Design

Carrier quickly realized that artificial cooling wasn’t just helpful for the printing industry – it could benefit everyone. He had invented air conditioning that could assist manufacturers of leather goods, food products or anything else sensitive to temperature. He became a passionate advocate for his invention, sharing widely about the promise of this new technology. By 1922, he had refined his design to make it smaller, safer to use and more powerful. He called the new and improved version the Centrifugal Refrigeration Compressor.

Surprisingly, before air conditioning technology started to cool homes, many people installed it somewhere else: movie theaters. Movie theaters during the 1920s were small, cramped spaces that could be very hot inside. Adding air conditioning was a novelty – and a luxury – that made the experience more enjoyable for everyone. It became widely used across movie theaters in the United States.

Home Gets Cool

Several decades after Carrier first invented air conditioning, further improvements on the design made it even more compact. Split-system units, developed by Frigidaire, used refrigerator technology to make the equipment small enough to use inside a home. General Electric created technology that made the design even smaller. By the 1950s, people were marketing the in-home air conditioning unit to Americans as an affordable, post-war luxury. By the late 1960s, most people in the U.S. had an air conditioning unit in their home.

Today, nearly 100 million homes are equipped with air conditioning thanks to Carrier and the creative minds that came before (and after) him. Today’s HVAC systems provide several benefits in addition to just temperature control. They can help filter out pollution, improve air quality and regulate the amount of moisture in the air. Like other HVAC companies around the world, Barineau Heating and Air Conditioning is a proud and award-winning Carrier dealer.

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