Who Invented Air Conditioning?

People talking near air conditioner

When the air conditioner breaks down, everyone notices. But do you ever stop to think of the guy who invented it?

The idea behind air conditioning systems came way back in 1840 from a doctor, John Gorrie, from Florida. According to Gorrie, cooling homes and places of work could keep people comfortable and prevent some diseases.

His idea was to use ice blocks from frozen lakes to cool hospital rooms. This did not work and he went on to research refrigeration. Through refrigeration, he created a machine that made ice for cooling purposes. In 1851, he got a patent for the ice-making machine, but he never lived long enough to see the machine come to the marketplace.

The Invention of the Modern Air Conditioning System

John Gorrie laid the foundation for the modern air conditioner, but it is Willis Carrier who brought the air conditioner to life. Carrier worked as an engineer for Buffalo Forge Company in New York. During his work as an engineer, Carrier was given a task to deal with a humidity problem that affected a Brooklyn publishing company.

His task was to ensure humidity did not damage the pages of magazines. He designed the “Apparatus to Treat Air,” which he later patented. After numerous tests, the apparatus was successful in humidifying and dehumidifying a room.

The apparatus used cooling coils to either heat water to humidify a room or cool water to dehumidify a room. He later designed an automatic control system that determined when a room needed humidification or dehumidification.

His system served several textile mills in New York and beyond. From its success, Carrier realized that several other companies could benefit from the system. He left Buffalo Forge to start his own company, Carrier Engineering Corporation, and six other engineers joined him. Carrier invented the AC in 1902.

Even after its invention, the first AC unit was not installed until 1914. Before that, Stuart Cramer, a textile mill engineer, coined the term ‘air conditioning’ in 1906.

The first residential AC measured 20 feet long, six feet wide, and seven feet high. This unit needed a room of its own. It was also very expensive with a unit going for between $10,000 and $50,000. If that unit was used today, it would cost between $120,000 and $600,000.

What Followed the Invention of the AC?

After the invention of the AC in 1902, engineers started looking at ways to apply the new technology. In 1904, they used mechanical refrigeration to cool the Missouri State Building that housed St. Louis World’s Fair that year. This system allowed 35,000 cubic feet of air to circulate every minute.

It was during the fair that the public got a taste of the use of cooling for comfort. The success at the Missouri State Building motivated theaters to use refrigeration equipment to cool theaters. These theaters used a simple heating and cooling system that forced cool air through floor vents.

But, there was still a problem with the system; the lower parts near the floor were cold while the upper areas remained hot.

The story of cooling is not complete without that of heating. The idea behind a furnace came in 1742 from Benjamin Franklin who came up with the Franklin stove. It is this stove that turned into the furnace.

Before 1885, most homes used wood fireplaces. In 1885, homes started using a riveted steel coal furnace that used the natural convention to transport heat through ducts. Around the same time, the cast iron radiators arrived on the market. These used a coal-fired boiler that sent hot water or steam to radiators in different rooms.

In 1935, the forced air furnace was invented. This system used a fan to distribute air to all rooms through ducts. With that, the HVAC system for homes and businesses was complete.

Further Contributions of Carrier to the HVAC Industry

Carrier and his company continued with HVAC inventions. In 1922, Carrier Engineering Corporation designed and installed the first well-designed theater cooling system. The installations started in Los Angeles before spreading to other parts of the US.

The new system pushed cold air through higher vents so that the cool air was well distributed. This system was not the end of inventions as Carrier and his company invented the centrifugal chilling system. Carrier waited for Memorial Day of 1925 to install the system at the NY Rivoli Theater. This system was highly efficient and less costly compared to the previous system.

The only problems with the centrifugal system were size and cost. Carrier could not use the system in all theaters around the world, thanks to its large size. It was not until 1947 that AC units became compact and affordable. Today, you can have Air Max HVAC install, repair, and maintain HVAC systems at an affordable price.

Besides Carrier, Who Else Took Part in AC Inventions?

Carrier shaped the HVAC industry, but he was not alone. After more than a decade of success in the HVAC industry, other players joined the industry.

Frigidaire came into the scene in 1929 with a split-system cooler. The cooler had the shape of a radio cabinet. The system was small to fit in small rooms in homes. However, it was too heavy and needed its own condenser.

In 1930, General Electric designed and patented 32 prototypes for room coolers. A year later, H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman came up with the first portable air conditioner. These conditioners were small enough to fit on the window ledge. These portable coolers came at the same time as General Motor’s CFC (Chlorofluorocarbon), which was the first non-flammable refrigerant in the world.

CFCs were successful until they were phased out in the 1990s for depleting the ozone layer.

The Modern Air Conditioner

The modern air conditioner, the one we’d recognize today, became more accessible in 1947. The system was more compact and more affordable. That year, more than 43,000 homes had their first AC installed.

Later, in 1960, almost all new homes in the United States had central air conditioning built-in. The popularity of AC systems saw the price of electric AC window units drop.

In 2009, the Energy Information Administration estimated that more than 87% of homes in the U.S. used AC units. This was approximately 100 million homes.

Air conditioning keeps you comfortable at all times, but it is also a lifesaver. In the USA, for instance, air conditioners reduced heat-related deaths by 80% between 1960 and 2004. Further inventions have made air conditioners more efficient. As environmentalists call for less use of air conditioners, engineers and inventors come up with new ways to keep our indoor air cool. The use of green energy and the creation of more efficient systems and accessories such as thermostats continue to shape the modern HVAC system.

Call Air Max HVAC Today

At Air Max HVAC, we offer installation, repair, and maintenance of heating and cooling systems for homes and businesses in Burbank and the surrounding areas. Other services we offer include energy audits for homes, utility rebate appraisals, and energy calculator services. We also sell products, including air conditioners, heat pumps, thermostats, furnaces, and packaged systems among others. Call Air Max HVAC today for installations, audits, repair, or maintenance of your HVAC system.

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