Friday, April 16, 2021

The History and Development of Modern Air Conditioning

In the year 1902, 25 year old Willis Carrier was an experimental engineer when he was hired by Brooklyn’s Sacket-Wilhelms Lithographic and Publishing Company … but not to produce air conditioning for people.  For two summers the heat and humidity in New York caused the printing company’s paper to wrinkle and swell, and caused the ink to misalign and blur.  To reduce humidity around the printer, Willis blew warm air over cold coils with an industrial fan, causing condensation to form on the coils.  That process of condensation not only helped reduce humidity, but also cooled the air and made people more comfortable. Carrier continued to improve upon his idea, and in 1922 created the smaller, safer and more efficient Centrifugal Refrigeration Compressor, which is considered the precursor to modern air conditioning.

This compressor was still too big and too expensive to be practical for residential use.  But manufacturers of all kinds of industries, from sugar to leather to macaroni, were well aware of how heat and humidity changes hindered production.  So it was the industrial sector that first made use of air conditioning.  It was actually when air conditioning was introduced to movie theatres that it came to be known by most Americans. Can you imagine sitting close together with dozens of other people in a room with no windows … without air conditioning?  Introducing cool air to theatres actually enticed more middle and upper class people to go to the movies and expanded the popularity of the industry.  However, air conditioning was still not practical on a residential application because of the size and expense of the machine as well as the harsh chemicals.

As the air conditioning system designed by Carrier continued to grow in popularity commercially, the race was on to make the machines smaller and more affordable to the average person. In 1931 a portable air conditioner was made to sit on a window ledge for cooling an individual room and was available on the market within a year.  However, it was far too expensive to be enjoyed by most Americans. 

It was not until 1947 that the cost of the window unit was affordable enough to become widely available in the United States. That revolutionized access to air conditioning for everyone in the country.  Sales of these window units continues to increase through the 50s, and by the 1960s new homes were being built with central air conditioning systems.  Today, it is easy to take for granted so many activities that would seem impossible without it … for example, working in an office building in August or having a dinner party in the middle of the summer, or even buying chocolate in July.  It makes sense that in 2000, the National Academy of Engineering named modern air conditioning to be one of the top 100 achievements of the 20th century. 

While scientists had experimented with cooling air more than 100 years earlier, Willis Carrier is credited with being the father of the modern air conditioner because of its practical application and advancement.  His invention changed the world in ways no one would have imagined at the time. Although the need for conditioned air was sparked by industry rather than a notion for making people more comfortable, the impact on our daily lives is undeniable.  At Royal Heating and Air, we are proud to provide new HVAC systems at the Lake of the Ozarks, and be a part of making homes and businesses comfortable and productive.  We are here for all of your HVAC maintenance, repairs and service.  Willis Carrier may be named the father of modern air conditioning, but at Royal Heating and Air we are known as the king of comfort.  Give us a call at (573) 480-4313 with any of your HVAC questions

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