We now recognize air conditioning as an essential part of modern living. Heat-related diseases and discomfort plagued the days before artificial cooling systems. Perhaps unsurprisingly, engineers created the first air conditioning systems out of necessity in high-temperature areas. Then, they progressed beyond a luxury and into an essential appliance in homes throughout the world.
Intro to the History of Air Conditioning
To begin, the history of air conditioning originated in Florida. The combination of high heat and humidity made residences miserable places to inhabit during the summer months. Therefore, Dr. John Gorrie, a local physician, first proposed an artificial cooling system in the 1840s. His proposal hoped to relieve his malaria patients of the intense heat and then hopefully stop the spread of the disease.
Unfortunately, Dr. Gorrie’s designs proved cumbersome. His first idea for an air conditioner required ice to be cut in blocks from frozen lakes, shipped to Florida, and used to cool his malaria wards. The next designs involved any powered systems he could think of in the 1850s. These included sails, waterpower, steam, and even horses to operate a compressor that would cycle the air out of a room.
His inventions were patented but never popularized. Since they used such complicated means of power, they had no widespread application.
Though his designs went dormant, Dr. Gorrie’s idea proved too much to ignore for engineer Willis Carrier. Buffalo Forge Company commissioned him in 1902 to help them with a problem. Their Brooklyn publishing company was having issues with humidity. Magazines became wrinkled and ruined.
That said, his task was to create a device to control the humidity of the room. His invention – the “Apparatus for Treating Air” – used heated and cooled water to regulate the temperature. Carrier managed to alter the humidity of the publishing house using this system of cooling coils. He even installed a control system that controlled the temperature without changing the machine.
Finally, Carrier patented this idea and started the Carrier Engineering Corporation. It provided the breakthrough that made way for the modern air conditioning system.
Air Conditioning in the Modern Age
Consumers got their first taste of commercial air conditioning at the 1904 World’s Fair. Engineers at the fair cooled an auditorium using Carrier’s system. Then, in the 1920s, Carrier’s company installed a similar system in movie theaters. This led to the boom of Hollywood movies with the promise of cool, comfortable sitting spaces.
But still, these systems were not fit for home use. However, in 1929, Frigidaire created a room-cooler small enough for a residence. Then, General Electric jumped on the idea, starting a race to build the most efficient cooling units.
By 1947, 43,000 homes were equipped with these commercial cooling units. They differed from those used today only by efficiency. As time went on, companies competed to build new units that saved power for consumers. Today, air conditioners account for 6% of all electricity produced in the United States, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
As with many important inventions, the history of air conditioning began through necessity. It continued as a series of small revolutions to the present day. Now, it’s difficult to imagine life without this particular invention. It provides comforts that have become essential to society. However, the history of air conditioning was not inevitable. It started with one man’s hope to make people a little more comfortable.