Air conditioning is one of those innovations like indoor plumbing: we simply can’t imagine being alive before these technologies existed. Though central air didn’t appear until the second half of the 20th century, the idea of cooling air inside of buildings has been around for centuries. Imagine trying to cool your Cheverly, Maryland, home by passing air over ice! The history of AC is longer than you think, and full of cool facts and famous names.
Cooling Concepts Before the 20th Century
Thanks to Popular Mechanics, we have cool information for you about the concepts that eventually fueled developing air conditioning. In 1758, Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley discovered liquids that evaporate faster than water can cool down objects and cause water to freeze. In the 1830s, a doctor in Florida named John Gorrie figured out a system to make ice blow air across it to cool down buildings. In 1881, a similar method helped keep President Garfield cool after an assassination attempt while he tried to heal. He didn’t make it, but at least he was 20 degrees cooler for a few months.
The Birth of Carrier and Air Conditioning
In the early 20th century, an inventor named Willis Carrier needed to figure out a way to keep paper from getting wrinkled in a high humidity environments. He worked for a lithographing and publishing company in Brooklyn, and his invention involved passing air over a set of coils. It worked in both directions. By cooling the coils, it removed humidity from the air; by heating them, it added humidity. He called it the “Apparatus for Treating Air.” When he realized the implications of his invention, he joined other engineers and created the Carrier Engineering Corporation.
Cooling Theaters in the 1920s
You’ll be interested to know that creating heating apparatuses arrived before cooling apparatuses. In the early 20th century, to cool theaters in the summer, engineers would reverse the process of heating apparatuses in the hopes of providing cooler rooms. Unfortunately, it caused severely uneven heat; some patrons were freezing, while others were still miserably hot.
Carrier enters the scene again in 1922. He and his engineers modified the system, first by moving the vents where the cool air entered the building, and second by simplifying the machine itself.
Window Units and Home AC
From the late 1920s to the early 1930s, several innovators offered cooling solutions small enough for use inside private homes. One of the earliest was a bulky split Frigidaire system, which General Electric modified into a single unit not long after. General Motors had a hand in the equation, introducing chlorofluorocarbons as a non-flammable coolant. In 1931 came the first window unit AC, which H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman invented. However, it was about as expensive as a house, so most people couldn’t afford one.
Central Air Comes to Town
The 1960s and 1970s saw the innovation of central air conditioning, which removed the window units for ductwork, evaporators, compressors, and fans. By this time, window units were far more affordable, and many people enjoyed air conditioning in their homes. But in 1970s we faced an energy problem, which eventually led the U.S. government to create a federal standard for energy-efficiency in appliances, including air conditioning.
Zoned Cooling, Smart Thermostats, and the Future of AC
Today, the best HVAC innovations combine comfort and energy efficiency through variable-speed motors, smart thermostats, and zoned comfort. Thankfully, this new technology is not as expensive as a house, so more people can afford it than those first window AC units. What’s coming next? The U.S. government invested in a new technology called non-vapor compression, which will reduce or remove environment-harming chemicals from the cooling process.
Ready to upgrade your system to the 21st century’s newest innovations? Whether you want a smart thermostat or simple maintenance on your existing central air system, Griffith Energy Services is ready to help. We can’t promise we could service a window AC from the 1930s, but we can repair your current system. Give us a call at 888-474-3391.
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