The Science of Staying Cool: A Brief History of Air Conditioning

3061796315_d2f97e61e5_bDid you know that air conditioning wasn’t invented until the year 1902? Up until this time, many had toyed with different ideas and cooling systems, but none succeeded like Willis Carrier’s invention called “The Apparatus For Treating Air”, that eventually led to the launch of the modern air conditioner.

The way it worked is that air was blown over cold coils by a machine, and thus, humidity and temperature were able to be controlled and manipulated. But, perhaps we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here. Let’s start at the beginning and so that the process makes a little more sense.

The Very Beginning

It all started with Benjamin Franklin (go figure). In 1758, Ben Franklin and John Hadley discovered that alcohol and other liquids that evaporate at a faster speed than water were able to cool down an object enough to essentially make ice.

The discovery was repeated in England in 1820, when Michael Faraday compressed and liquified ammonia. In the 1830’s, John Gorrie invented an ice maker by using the process of compression and the blowing of air over buckets of water. Unfortunately, without the money to take his invention global, it remained unknown.

In 1881, President Garfield was shot and engineers built a makeshift cooling unit to keep him comfortable. The cooling unit was stuffed with water soaked cloth and fans blew air to keep the cool air close to the ground. This unit was able to cool the room by 20 degrees.

The Birth of Modern Air Conditioning

In 1902, Willis Carrier invented the machine that blew air over cold coils. His motive was to keep paper from wrinkling in the humidity. The first to call this process “Air Conditioning” was Stuart Cramer in 1906. He made a ventilation device that added water to the air in his clothing factories to make work easier and more efficient.

It was eight years later that air conditioning was introduced into the first home. It was 1914, the unit was 6 feet wide, 7 feet tall, and 20 feet long. It was probably never used because apparently the house was vacant most of the time. No matter, it was probably horribly inefficient.

From this point, it took 17 years before the smaller version of the air conditioner was invented. It sat on a window sill and the very rich could spend upwards of $100,000 to over half a million in today’s money keeping themselves comfortable in the brutal heat.

Air Conditioning Today

In 1950, having air conditioning was the coveted thing. In 1953, over a million units were sold. In the 1970’s, center air made it’s debut and window units were less desirable. Carrier’s invention with the coils and air movement is basically how central air works now.

We have come a long way. Today, air conditioning is something possessed by a majority of the world. Those who don’t possess it can easily have it installed at a far more affordable rate than what it was offered at in the 1930’s.

A majority of the world lives in an extremely hot and humid climate. With the invention of air cooling systems, the world is a much happier place, and far less deaths occur every year by heat stroke. That’s something worth celebrating.


Besides being the main writer and owner of Life and Experiences, she is also the co-founder of Ayanize Co.

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