An Interesting Tale of Air Conditioning’s Beginnings


An Interesting Tale of Air Conditioning’s Beginnings

You may have no idea how long air conditioning has been around, or maybe you assume it has been around for a few decades – say, the 1930’s or 40’s.  While cavemen had caves to keep them cool in hot summer weather, a way to actually control the temperature didn’t evolve until the 1830’s when a doctor from Florida, John Gorrie, decided that the suffocating temperatures in his hospital couldn’t be beneficial to his patients, many who were suffering from yellow fever and malaria.  To counteract the intense heat, his invention of a contraption that was cooled air created by blowing a fan over an ice bucket proved to be successful – albeit a bit inefficient.

About a half-century later, naval engineers designed a device which was a bit more complex for the bedroom of President James Garfield, who was in his last days.  This device was similar to a box filled with rags that had been soaked in ice water.  A fan directed the air so that the cool air stayed down at a lower level while the hot air rose to the ceiling.  This device did lower the temperature in the room about 20 degrees, and over a two-month time span, it took about half a million pounds of ice to keep the president, who died after those two months, more comfortable.

Of course, these are not examples of true “air conditioning,” however during those times people were creative and used what they had available in an attempt to enjoy cooler temperatures.  Air conditioning in its infancy came to be in larger cities in the late 1800s, in the form of refrigeration which was piped to meat lockers and other essential areas from a central cooling station.  Some of the terms used back then for what we call air conditioning today were “manufactured air” and “apparatus for treating air.”

At the turn of the century, air conditioning became something known not only in an industrial environment but in households as well when Willis Carrier and others began to experiment with systems designed to control the relationship between temperature and humidity in the air.  Carrier, who was an engineer and air conditioning pioneer, used a series of chilled coils that would work to lower the moisture level n the air as well as the temperature.  The “Apparatus for Treating Air,” built for Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company of Brooklyn, was the beginning of the air conditioning revolution.

There were still problems to be faced as most households could not be outfitted with air conditioning because of the units’ huge size.  Also, the coolant used during the period was ammonia, which was potentially toxic.  While textile manufacturers, hospitals, schools, and other industries began to enjoy cooled air which no longer had to come from a centrally-located supply, most households simply couldn’t afford it in addition to the size/coolant problem.  Finally, in 1922 the size and coolant issues were solved as Carrier began using a relatively safe chemical, dielene, as a coolant; the addition of a compressor to the cooling systems reduced not only the physical size but the price as well, making air conditioning more affordable to homeowners.

It was not long after this that air conditioning could be found country-wide in movie theaters, the perfect refuge for those wanting to escape the sweltering heat in summer months.  Soon after, the concept began to spread to department stores, office buildings and eventually homes as window units became one of the hottest commodities ever in the 1940’s.  It is popularity skyrocketed over a five-year time span as the sale of these window air conditioners grew from 74,000 in 1948 to more than one million by 1953.

The air conditioning professionals at Haley Mechanical just thought we would share this amazing story about something we take for granted today – cool, comfortable indoor air!

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