When Was Air Conditioning Invented And Who Invented It?

When Air Conditioning Was Invented

Summer brings a renewed feeling of life to the planet, but with that also comes unbearable humidity and heat. In the summer months, many people will turn on their air conditioning without even considering where it came from. The invention of air conditioning in 1902 can be attributed to a skilled engineer named Willis Haviland Carrier. He began experimenting with humidity control to solve an application problem at the printing plant in Brooklyn, NY. 

In this common era, we have become accustomed to the comfort of cooling whole buildings down by simply flipping the switch of our air conditioning units. However, these units are the end products of almost a century of engineering development in cooling, thermodynamics, controls, and energy efficiency; they are complex electromechanical systems. According to a survey done back in 2000 of ASME members, air conditioning and refrigeration were honored to be among the 10 greatest mechanical engineering achievements of the 20th century.


Having roots back to the region of China, wherein the inventor Ding Huane invented a manually powered rotary fan. The great American inventor Benjamin Franklin was also intrigued by cooling the air, and in 1758 conducted experiments with evaporation and alcohol to obtain freezing temperatures. 


Willis Carrier: The Father of the Air Conditioner

Willis Carrier’s first air conditioning unit borrowed concepts of refrigeration that were established years earlier. His system sent air through coils filled with cold water to cool the temperature of the air and remove moisture to control the humidity of the room. Later in 1933, an air conditioner was developed using a belt-driven condensing unit and blower, mechanical controls, and evaporator coils by the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America; this became the base model for future air conditioning units.


Although modern air conditioning units still operate on the basic principle of Carrier’s 1933 model, they have incorporated advancements in compression, diagnostics and control, electronic sensors, materials, and energy efficiency. Carrier is still manufacturing units and improving the system. The top-of-the-line unit that Carrier, the infinity, is currently producing is a vast improvement from the units made years ago. It featured advanced components, including a two-stage scroll compressor for quieter and more energy-efficient performance.


The U.S. Department of Energy has standards set in place that is behind improvements in air conditioning units. Dennis Thoren, the vice president of engineering and technology at Ingersoll Rand, Davidson, NC, has been quoted as stating: ” Minimum efficiency standards for air conditioning systems have progressively increased, particularly in the last five years; requiring manufacturers to optimize systems to reduce energy consumption.” This is the company that markets the ever-popular Trane line of air conditioning units.


To comply with the necessary regulations, manufacturers have increased the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ration (SEER) to 16 or 18, exceeding the DOE’s efficiency standards.

Air Conditioning Technologies

Air-conditioning manufacturers have begun to expand the capabilities of wall thermostats in the continuing efforts to reduce energy usage. They have been working on this endeavor by developing microprocessor-based diagnostic and control kits that automate the operation of the compressor air-flow systems. Similar to other smart-home features, the Tran ComfortLink II, for example, has remote thermostat options that allow homeowners to adjust functions and temperature from remote computers and smart devices. Going a step further, ComfortLink II will even send you notifications when it is time to replace the filter or if it is time for a routine inspection of the air conditioning unit. 


Using innovation to add another layer of control in the consumer’s hands adds to the continued efforts to reduce energy consumption and lower our carbon footprint. He says Trane believes that air conditioning units are one of the main components of the future’s automated, energy-efficient homes. The next technological advance for the air conditioning industry is to advance smart technologies to interface with the electric grid; this will allow units to be regulated according to the region and changing weather conditions. This innovation could further reduce energy consumption by way of fully variable speed systems. 

According to the Energy Information Administration, around 80% of American households have air conditioning, and most households have a central air system. In this day and age, air conditioning has evolved from a luxury to a necessity, which many can agree on adds to the quality of life. In addition to the obvious bonuses to having air conditioning, it has also altered the industry of architecture, allowing for windowless office buildings and houses without porches. Air conditioning has also added to migration patterns, as people can live and work in areas that are known for their unbearable heat and humidity. 

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A History of Air Conditioning

From Ancient Mountains of Snow to the Window Units of Today

It is a known fact that many people are using air conditioning units to battle the current heatwave that we are experiencing. However, there is a deeper history involved. Throughout the ages, our civilization has gone to great lengths to maintain a cool and comfortable environment. More on this in the sections below:


Part of the human condition is to wonder about, and even year for, a simpler time before the modern age. But there are some things to keep in mind, for we are quite comfortable in this day and age. For instance, we don’t have to deal with abscessed teeth, chamber pots, the plague, or the lack of a cold indoor climate during the middle of July. It is worth remembering how we arrived with the comforts that we have today thanks to modern air conditioning units, especially as this sweltering heat rises into triple digits.


Many regions of the world still deal with overwhelming heat the Americans did up until the 20th century: by sweating and fanning themselves off with whatever they could find. There has always been some form of air conditioning systems available, however primitive they may have been. However, they were so costly and ineffective to be used by only the wealthiest individuals. The first rotary fans that we know were used in China, although they were powered by hand. Come the 1900s in the United States, however, marked the beginning of changes. This was when the first electric fans made their appearance into homes in the U.S. 

As we continuously see, some ancient civilizations were ahead of their time. Take Rome, for example; citizens began to utilize the aqueduct systems to circulate cool water throughout the walls of their homes. The emperor Elagabalus took things way farther in a ridiculous step; he had a mound of snow brought in via donkeys to the garden next to his home to stay cool during the summer months. Although, as you can imagine, this show of wealth and power was an ineffective use of resources, it just goes to show you the efforts made to remain cool and comfortable. Even back in that period, some scoffed at the efforts made and even the concept of trying to stay cool.


Luxuries such as this, of course, vanished with the emergence of the dark ages, which set civilization back in our natural development due to the nature of the age. Because of the absence of proper cooling, architecture was also influenced; in Middle-Eastern construction, buildings were constructed so that windows were facing away from the sun to keep the warm rays from penetrating. A larger building was constructed with what is referred to as ‘wind towers, which were designed to catch a cross breeze in the summer. Major efforts to remain cool during the summer did not return until the 1800s when American engineers attempted to solve the problem.


Continuing where the Romans left off and with the funds to do so, American engineers started to once again go to the drawing board to come up with a cooling solution. In 1881, there is a historical record of a clumsy system used in Washington D.C. during the presidency of James Garfield, in which air was blown through cotton sheets drenched in ice water. However, similar to Elagabalus, the comfort obtained using this method was very costly, both in energy and the water used for ice. It was reported that his caretakers went through half a million pounds of ice in two months.


The big break in the air conditioning industry did not come until the use of electricity was implemented. The invention of oscillating fans was made possible in the early 20th century by Nikola Tesla’s development of alternating currents motors. As we know, the first air conditioning unit was invented by Willis Carrier; however, his goal was not that of comfort, as it was aimed at controlling humidity for his place of business. Twenty years later, in 1922, he improved his design with the invention of the centrifugal chiller, which reduced the unit’s size by adding a central compressor. In some cases, we can attribute the term ‘blockbuster’ to Carrier, as well. This is because his new and improved model was unveiled to the public in 1925 at the Rivoli Theatre in Times Square. From henceforth, the public would flock to the comfortable air-conditioned theatres during hot summer days.

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Although Europeans were slower to grasp the integration of air conditioning, it wasn’t long before it caught on there as well. Although there is no real statistical evidence to support this, it seems to be that other countries still go without proper cooling from air conditioning. In India, for example, the people there are still advised to dress in light linens and make sure to drink plenty of water to avoid heatstroke. We certainly are lucky to be able to enjoy this modern marvel that keeps us cool, comfortable and adds to the quality of our lives. 


We Take Air Conditioning for Granted but Imagine What Life Would Be Like Without It

Air conditioning may have once been considered a luxury, but it is now a staple in most homes across the United States. The invention of air conditioning units has allowed us to live and work comfortably in buildings we use daily for our day-to-day lives. According to the Energy Information Administration, one interesting fact is that air conditioning and heating are so important to us as a civilization that they account for 48% of energy consumption in the U.S.


Thanks to the scientists and inventors who consistently challenged themselves, we can enjoy residential and commercial air conditioning and heating, which increases the quality of life we have.

The Evils of High Temperatures 

The physician and inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Florida can be attributed to coining “the evils of high temperatures.” Gorrie first proposed cooling cities to relieve the citizens of these evils in the 1840s, and he believed that proper cooling of buildings was key to avoiding disease and making patients more comfortable. However, the period he had to accomplish this required ice to be shipped to Florida from frozen lakes and streams.


Because of the high cost of this system, he began to experiment with the foreign concept of artificial cooling methods. He designed a machine that would create ice by utilizing a compressor powered by a horse, water, wind-driven sails, or steam; this design was patented in 1851. Unfortunately, he was not successful in marketing this design, mainly because of the untimely passing of his main financial backer. However, this design laid the groundwork for modern air conditioning and refrigeration.

Wrinkled Pages, Revolutionary Solution

As we know, Carrier did not invent the air conditioner with comfort in mind; he was tasked with finding a solution to a humidity problem while working for the Buffalo Forge company in 1902. HIgh humidity resulted in magazine and newspaper pages wrinkle at Sackett-Wilhelms Lithography and Publishing Company in Brooklyn. Primarily known as an “apparatus for treating air,” it would either humidify the air by heating water or dehumidifying the air by cooling water. Through continuous testing and refinement of his design, he also discovered and designed an automated control unit to regulate the air’s temperature and humidity. 

Not long after this invention of the apparatus, Carrier soon realized that his invention could benefit many other industries; he soon broke off from Buffalo Forge, creating his own company with six other engineers: the Carrier Engineering Corporation. 

Public Buildings get Cool.

In 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair, the Missouri State Building was cooled by event organizers by utilizing mechanical refrigeration. The 1,000-seat auditorium, rotunda, and other rooms were cooled by a system that used 35,000 cubic feet of air. This was a major achievement, as it marked the first time in American history that the public was exposed to the wonders of cooling for comfort. The earliest cooling units were essentially modified heaters that distributed cool air through floor vents. However, there were hot and muggy conditions on the upper levels and icy conditions on the lower levels. It was so cold that some people on the lower levels would use newspapers to stay warm. It was not until 1922 when Carrier’s designs introduced cooling through ceiling vents for better humidity control and comfort throughout.

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1922 marks the year when Carrier introduced an improved air conditioning system that used a centrifugal chiller; this had fewer moving parts and compressor stages than existing units. This greatly expanded their use throughout the country, as it was more reliable and more energy-efficient, lowering the cost to operate. 

Bringing Cooling Home

Although the invention by Carrier of air conditioning units was a huge step forward in the industry, these units were too large and costly for residential use. In 1929, Frigidaire used their knowledge of refrigeration to introduce a new split-system room cooler. This was small enough for residential use; however, the available units in the marketplace were large, costly, heavy, and required the use of a separate condensing unit that was remote-controlled. Frank Faust with General Electric took this design and made some alterations to it for improvement. He created a self-contained room cooler, which in 1930-1931, General Electric ended up manufacturing 32 similar prototypes. 

Around the same period, other engineers with General Electric (Thomas Midgley, Albert Henne, and Robert McNary) synthesized chlorofluorocarbon coolants. These vastly improved the safety of air conditioning units, as they became the first non-flammable refrigeration fluids. Although this was a breakthrough at the time, later, the CFC coolants would be phased out due to being linked to ozone depletion. Governments did this all across the planet after the Montreal Protocol in the 1990s. Hydrofluorocarbons soon replaced CFC coolants as they were shown to have no detrimental effects on the ozone layer, but they were eventually linked to climate change. Recent research has been resulting in new technologies and materials that are not as harmful to the planet.


Home air conditioning units continued to improve and decrease in size after H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman passed a patent for what we know as window air conditioning units. These were available to consumers in 1932 but were not as successful as anticipated due to their high cost. Engineer Henry Galson developed a more compact and inexpensive version for several manufacturing companies. By 1947, 43,000 of these units were recorded as being sold, which marked the first time in history that homeowners could enjoy the use of air conditioning residentially.


Moving forward to the late 1960s, most newly constructed homes now had central air conditioning, and those that did not were able to enjoy the lowest recorded costs of window units. This intern led to an increased population in Florida and Arizona, where the public could now live comfortably. According to the Energy Information Administration, air conditioning is now enjoyed by nearly 87% of the American population. 

Efficiency Standards Drive Improvements

When air conditioning started to become increasingly popular, the energy crisis in the 1970’s unfortunately hit. Because of this, laws were passed to reduce energy use; this played the base work for the Energy Department’s Appliance and Equipment Standards Program. This program ensured that air conditioning manufacturers had a standard for energy efficiency rather than trying to control the energy use of each state. In 1992, the Energy Department made it so that manufacturers of residential air conditioning units were issued a conservation standard. This standard is projected to save roughly $29 billion in savings from 2006 to 2035 and avoid carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the gas emissions of roughly 72 million cars.


We have already seen the benefits of this program and have seen that it has aided consumers in saving money and energy. Today, air conditioning units only use around 50% of the energy than they did when the energy standards were passed in the ’90s. 

The Future of Air Conditioning

In addition to the before-mentioned energy standards for heating and air, the Energy Department’s Emerging Technologies Program supports future research and designs that will further increase the energy efficiency of air conditioning and heating units. Currently, this program is working towards the next milestone in the air conditioning industry: non-vapor compression technology. This will not utilize HFCs that can harm the environment, with the hopes of ushering in a new era for the industry. This technology has been projected to reduce energy consumption by 50%. 

When Was Air Conditioning Invented And Who Invented It?