Modern Air Conditioning is Invented
Years after Faraday achieved his findings with ammonia, John Gorrie, a Florida doctor, came up with a machine that would help keep yellow fever patients fresh. This machine made use of water and compressed air to establish an open cooling system. Having been patented in 1851, John Gorrie’s “cold air machine” became the first patented discovery that could facilitate mechanical refrigeration, and the first among many to resemble the modern air conditioner as well.
The history of air conditioning, however, started to heat up in 1902. It was in that year when a young engineer, Willis Carrier, was handed the responsibility of making a system that would be used to treat the air at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company located in Brooklyn, NY. This came after the printing company’s executives established that excessive moisture at the plant messed up the color register that was used for multi-color printing.
By 1903, Carrier had developed a system consisting of chilled coils to maintain a constant humidity level of 55% inside the Sackett-Wilhelms printing plant, which is equivalent to using 108,000 lb of ice every day to cool the plant. At this point, the modern air conditioner came into being.
Shortly after Carrier invented his unique air conditioning machine, Stuart Cramer, a mill engineer, came up with a similar ventilating device to add moisture to the hot air inside textile plants. Cramer was the second person to invent such a machine but was the first to use the term “air conditioning” on the device to describe its purpose.
The use of air conditioning increased in plants and mills in the early 1900s, but the major breakthrough in the use of this modern invention for domestic purposes came in 1914. It was in this year that Charles Gates, a Minneapolis millionaire, hired Willis Carrier to set up an air conditioner in his posh home.
Carrier: The Future of Air Conditioning
Willis Carrier went on to develop a more efficient air conditioning system – the centrifugal refrigeration machine, better known as the “chiller.” This invention made its debut on Memorial Day weekend, 1925, at the grand unveiling of the Rivoli Theater in Times Square. It, therefore, treated many movie theater regulars to their first experience of cold air indoors. The “chiller” was wildly successful. For the next five years, Carrier installed these cooling machines in 300 movie theaters throughout America.
Years later – before air conditioning became a standard fixture in American homes – people filled the relaxed and comfortable movie theaters during the hot summers, which was the beginning of the “summer blockbuster” trend.
Over the next decade, most commercial businesses joined the air conditioning wave by installing large (by modern standards) and toxic (coolant used was ammonia) air conditioning machines in their premises. The installation of air conditioning enhanced employee productivity, especially in the summer months, in which most employees lost motivation due to the heat. The adoption of air conditioning in American homes was slowed down by the Great Depression and World War II. However, most homeowners who could afford it in the 1950s adopted this system.
By 1965, only 10% of the American homes were fitted with this air conditioning, but this number went up slowly but steadily as the years went on. By 2007, 86% of households had AC systems as per reports by Carrier Corporation. Today, AC systems are considered standard equipment in the U.S., and only the type of AC equipment differs across the regions. According to Energy Information Administration of the U.S., central air systems are standard in the South, West, and Midwest, while room conditioners are conventional in the Northeast.
Extensive use of air conditioning ultimately enabled a lasting shift of population in the U.S. Before home air conditioning, desert cities in America, Florida, and the Deep South region marked insignificant growth since most people couldn’t put up with the harsh weather. However, with the invention of home air conditioning, people could spread out and settle in the scarcely populated areas. Currently, some of the hottest cities in the U.S – such as Arizona, Phoenix; Nevada, Las Vegas; and Dallas, Texas – continue to register population growth, credit to air conditioning.