The Origins of Air Conditioning

July 20, 2020

It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention, and this is certainly true of Americans who were gaining their footing in the United States during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Keep in mind that the modern conveniences of today were not around in those days. They were invented just as the Industrial Revolution was getting started in the early 1900s in states like New York and in regions like New England.

Hudson, FL, is one of those regions that experience hot and humid weather, so it should be no surprise that it was Dr. John Gorrie of Florida, a physician and an inventor who proposed the idea of cooling cities to relieve residents of “the evils of high temperatures.” At Mario's AC, our team has continued to help residents in this area of Florida to remain comfortable in their homes against those high temperatures. Here is some of the history of air conditioning worth knowing.

The Origins of Air Conditioning

The United States is a country that enjoys several modern conveniences because this was where inventors, researchers, and entrepreneurs have been given the opportunity and the resources to experiment. The first Americans lived on the east coast, which is why New York was the hub for the Industrial Revolution. New York is also home to Broadway and other live entertainment options like the opera and theater. This is where the great minds gathered and where they were given funding to make their inventions reality.

Keep in mind that not every unit in a multi-unit building has its own ductless AC system in other parts of the civilized world. In France, the French tend to scoff at Americans and their modern conveniences. This is partly due to the fact that many apartment units in Paris are so old. There is no cooling system yet that is compatible with France’s older electricity delivery system, so Parisians, for example, have to make do with portable units for the time being.

Since Gorrie was a doctor in Florida, he dealt directly with the high temperatures and patients who were specifically affected by those high temperatures with diseases such as malaria. In the 1840s, cooling systems were blocks of ice that were shipped from the northern region of the USA and frozen lakes. Therefore, Gorrie began experimenting with artificial cooling. Unfortunately, the doctor was not able to bring his idea to market because his financial backer passed away. He did, however, patent the technology, which became the foundation of the cooling system as it is known today.

Revolutionary Solutions

Since Gorrie lost his funding, cooling technology took a back seat for several years. It was picked up again by Willis Carrier, an engineer. He was employed by the Buffalo Forge Company. His task was to solve a humidity problem that was plaguing the magazine pages of Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn. The humidity was causing the pages to wrinkle, which was unacceptable. His problem-solving skills led to the invention of the first modern electrical air conditioning unit. Like Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, Carrier had to try several times before he got it right. When he finally did, he used cooling coils that would humidify by heating water or dehumidify by cooling the water to achieve his task. Carrier secured a patent for his technology that treated air. As a true engineer, he kept improving his cooling system invention. Carrier was able to scale it up. One of his successes led to a system that was able to automatically control and to regulate the humidity and temperature of the air in textile mills.

Carrier was able to successfully continue patenting his cooling technology and ended up founding Carrier Engineering Corporation with six other engineers.

The St. Louis World’s Fair

The St. Louis World’s Fair was held in 1904. Organizers of the event managed to cool the Missouri State Building that included a 1,000-seat auditorium, the rotunda, and other rooms. Since the event was a public, it was the first time the general population experienced air conditioning.

In the 1920s when Hollywood was taking off and beginning to produce movies, the general public who went to the movie theaters was also able to beat to heat because the cooling technology was integrated into the movie theaters. The owners of these public theaters simply modified the heating technology that was being utilized. Those systems were modified to work with refrigeration equipment that successfully pushed cold air through the vents. At that time, they were not able to control how cold it became in the theaters, so patrons would end up wrapping their feet and heads. Nonetheless, these theaters got people out of the muggy and humid weather for a few hours.

Carrier Engineering Corporation installed the first cooling system that worked well in the Metropolitan Theater in Los Angeles in 1922. This system provided better humidity control and improved comfort because it pushed the cool air through vents that were higher up on the walls.

The Rivoli Theater in New York installed a cooling system in May 1922 that was cost-effective for a large-scale cooling system. It utilized a centrifugal chiller. The system had fewer moving parts and compressor stages. One of its greatest feats was its reliability.

Cooling Goes Residential

Historically, technology invented in the United States starts big and expensive. Then, as engineers continue to work on it, the technology becomes more compact and cost effective. This has been true of computers and cell phones. It is also true of cooling systems. The reason why cooling systems were integrated into theaters during the 1920s and not into residences is because engineers had not figured out how to reduce the size of the technology yet. So, the best that they could do was to provide a refuge at theaters and other large buildings for the time being.

Keep in mind that the residential multi-unit complex is not a new concept even though they are being erected at larger rates in cities today. Brooklyn had several apartment complexes in the 1920s, and so did other cities. There was no way to install a cooling unit into those living spaces at that time, let alone get them up the stairs.

Frank Faust from General Electric developed a self-contained room cooler in the early 1930s. Based on Faust’s design, General Electric was able to produce 32 prototypes. In the same time period, Thomas Midgley, Albert Henne, and Robert McNary, who worked at General Motors, were able to come up with the world’s first non-flammable refrigerating fluids. They synthesized the liquid from chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) coolants.

As the 1900s progressed, so did the work on improving the cooling system. Engineers came up with the central cooling system. Then, the technology for the ductless AC unit was invented. Today, energy efficiency is the focus as the HVAC industry continues to make advancements and improvements that individuals get to enjoy in their homes.

To complete any repair or replacement services that you made need on your AC unit, call us at Mario's AC to schedule an appointment in Hudson. We also offer indoor air quality, duct cleaning, and new construction services.

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