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Who Invented Air Conditioning?

July 7, 2012

By Quinton Williams

The first air conditioning probably occurred when a caveman fell off a cliff, but here is a more technical response to who first discovered how to keep cool artificially.

In some ways air conditioning was discovered the day that mankind first began to suffer from the effects of heat and humidity. The desire to maintain cool and fresh air has been inside us from the earliest times. In the very beginning, it was not totally for comfort. In hot and humid air, the human body loses excessive amounts of necessary water. The ability to replace the lost moisture was a matter of life and death. The ancient civilizations developed some rudimentary air conditioning systems. The Egyptians ran cool water through the walls of some of their homes. Another method was the placing of a cistern filled with water in the path of incoming ventilation. These systems were the first attempts at air conditioning for the sake of comfort, and were available to only the very rich.

So who invented the air conditioning? The birth of modern air conditioning took place in 1902. A young electrical engineer named Willis Haviland Carrier was working for a company called Buffalo Forge. He had been attempting to solve a problem at the Brooklyn Printing Company. The problem was that the heat and humidity in the printing room kept causing changes in the size of the paper. This made color precision printing impossible. Carrier realized that the solution to the problem was control of temperature and humidity in the printing area.

Carrier’s solution was a closed system condensation and evaporation unit that used ammonia as a refrigerant. This crude early system used much the same principles as modern air conditioning units and completely solved the printing problem by maintaining a constant temperature and humidity level in the work area. This new ability led to a flourishing in several other industries that benefited before, during, and after the production process. Film, tobacco, processed meats, medicine, and textiles were just a few of these improved industries.

In 1915, Willis Carrier founded the Carrier Engineering Company with an initial investment of $35,000. The company has surpassed five billion dollars of sales. Still, the purpose of the company when it began was to provide air conditioning for industrial purposes. In 1924, the first “comfort” air conditioning system was installed in the J.L Hudson Department Store in Detroit, Michigan. The response of the customers to the cool interior of the store was dramatic. Movie theaters, like the famed Rivoli Theater in New York City, were the next to realize the advantages of air conditioning. Customers would flock to the cool theaters to beat the summer heat.

Four years later, in 1928, Willis Carrier introduced The Weatherman. This was the first air conditioner designed for residential use. Sales started off slow due mainly to the depression and then World War II. In the post war years, the air conditioning boom began, and has continued unabated until the present day. Willis Carrier did not invent the first artificial means of cooling air, but his basic air conditioner invention is the one that is still used world wide today, and he certainly deserves the title of the inventor of the air conditioner.

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