HVAC System Guides

The History of Air Conditioning

The history of air conditioning and it’s impact on the lives of millions and millions of people goes far beyond having a cool place to relax in your living room. But one thing is for sure, it is one of the greatest inventions enjoyed by billions all over the world.

Dr John Gorrie- “The Father of Refrigeration And Cooling”

Sometime during the 1830′s long before one of the very first air cooling “machines” were actually built.  An American named Dr. John Gorrie was conducting his own medical research into tropical diseases.  During this time, many in the medical field assumed that certain diseases like malaria and cholera  were caused by exposure to “bad air.”  While treating patients in hospitals in Apalachicola, Florida Dr. Gorrie theorized that if the patient rooms were kept cool, this would aid in the cure of specific diseases.ohn Gorrie was conducting his own medical research into tropical diseases. During this time, many in the medical field assumed that certain diseases like malaria and cholera were caused by exposure to “bad air.” While treating patients in hospitals in Apalachic

To accomplish this he had ice placed in a suspended basin in patient rooms. The air would flow downward because cool air is heavier than hot air. This created a cooling effect for ill patients. During this time, ice was not readily available and had to be brought in by boat. This not being very practical led Dr. Gorrie to begin experimenting with making artificial ice. In 1851 he was granted a U.S. patent for an ice making machine. He was never able to sell his invention, perhaps because he was way ahead of his time. He died financially ruined and the idea of “cooling systems” remained just an idea for the next 21 years. Later he would be given the added title of “father of refrigeration and cooling” for his contribution in the history of air conditioning.

Another version of Gorrie’s “cooling system” was used when President James Garfield was dying in 1881. Naval engineers built a box filled with cloths that had been soaked in melted ice water. Then by allowing hot air to blow on the cloths it decreased the room temperature by 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem with this method was essentially the same problem Gorrie had. It required an enormous amount of ice to keep the room cooled continuously. Yet it was an important event in the history of air conditioning. It proved that Dr. Gorrie had the right idea, but unfortunately was unable to capitalize on it.

Wills Carreir

In 1902, another American named Willis Carrier from Angola, NY, would invent the first cooling system that would later become the basis for the air conditioners we use today.
Carrier’s invention was actually created to cool and decrease humidity at a publishing company in Brooklyn, NY. The heat and humidity would cause the paper to wrinkle. So Carrier built a machine made of coils that were chilled to lower the temperature in the plant as well as lower the humidity. Carrier called his cooling machine an “Apparatus For Treating Air.”

The Carrier Air Apparatus Takes Off

This early version of the air conditioner was extremely large and was used to cool large manufacturing plants and hospitals. As successful as the Carrier air apparatus was it had a major problem. Carrier used ammonia as a cooling agent.

Ammonia is extremely toxic. But Carrier continued to improve on his invention, and in 1922 he replaced ammonia as his cooling agent with another safer chemical called dichloroethylene. In addition to changing the coolant he invented a compressor called a centrifugal chiller. Carrier got the idea from the centrifugal blades used in water pumps. This made his cooling units safer to use and a lot more efficient when cooling large buildings. This is thought of by many to have been one of the most significant turning points in the history of air conditioning science.

The Rivoli movie theater in New York City would be the first theater in the world to purchase and install a Carrier air conditioner. By 1928, numerous office buildings and even the U.S. House of Representatives had air conditioners installed. Carrier continued to make better air conditioners.

Eventually, he would design units small enough to fit in what were considered standard sized windows for home use. Around 1948 sales of these window sized units were over 74,000. Within 5 years over 1 million had been sold.

Although Willis Carrier died in 1950, his invention of the air conditioner and to refrigeration science has helped reduce death rates and was an important contribution to space exploration. The first men to walk on the moon were able to do so due in part to the cooling units in their space suits based on the inventions of Willis Carrier…the “Father of Modern Air.

Today, the Carrier company remains the world leader in HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and is a multi billion dollar company.

The history of air conditioning will continue to evolve as technological advances allow for better environmentally friendly and more efficient machines.