April 30th, 2021
Cosmo here! Today The Boss gave me a history lesson. History has never been my best subject (I’m much better at math), but I enjoyed this history lesson because it had a very interesting topic: air conditioning!
To give you an overview, we’ll start with four precursors to air conditioning dating back to ancient times, when the first ideas of comfort control took root:
Circa 10,000 B.C.Hunter-gatherers realize it’s cooler under the ground than above it. They live in caves and build underground burrows with cooling in mind, a primitive version of geothermal comfort.
Circa 2600 B.C.Ancient Egyptians cool their homes by hanging wet cloths or reeds in windows and doorways.
Circa 1000 B.C.Someone in Zhou Dynasty-era China figures out that air movement creates a cooling effect on the skin. Fans, in effect the first portable AC systems, are born.
Early Third Century A.D.Roman Emperor Elagabalus has snow transported by donkey from the mountains to his villa’s garden. By this time, aqueducts are being routed through the walls of wealthy Romans’ homes, cooling the houses by evaporation.
These ancient developments were sophisticated for their time, but they were still a far cry from the technology we enjoy today. Here are a couple of discoveries in more recent centuries that helped usher in the modern age of air conditioning:
1758Benjamin Franklin works with English chemist John Hadley to conduct an experiment on the refrigerating effects of certain liquids. They learn that some volatile liquids can cool an object enough to bring it below the freezing point, a discovery that later leads to the invention of refrigerants.
1851Based on the theory that hot air in hospitals contained sickness, and that cooling the air would create a healthier environment, Dr. John Gorrie patents an invention that uses air blown over ice to cool hospital rooms.
With such innovations paving the way, it was only a matter of time before the modern HVAC industry was born. That happened in 1902, which is where our story really begins.
Air Conditioning History: The Modern Era
Like many inventions, air conditioning was initially designed for one specific purpose that later spread into other applications. In this case, the original, specific purpose was controlling humidity in printing plants in the southern United States.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the four-color process printing was done in four separate runs, since it wasn’t yet possible to print all four colors at once on a multi-head press. This production method was especially problematic in the south, where changes in humidity caused the paper to absorb or lose moisture between passes. This caused swelling or shrinking that would interfere with registration and sometimes ruin the final product.
Enter Willis Carrier, an employee at Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Co. In 1902, he invented a machine to control the temperature and humidity by blowing air over cold coils. This regulated the humidity to keep the ink fresh and to prevent the paper from wrinkling. It also made the plant a very popular place to work, thanks to the newly controlled indoor climate! It didn’t take long for other printing plants to adopt this technology, and the success of his invention enabled Carrier to found the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America.
At first, air conditioning was far more common in commercial settings than in residential homes. That was partly because early iterations of the invention were far less compact and more expensive than modern air conditioning, though they were conceptually similar. The first non-factory commercial space to use it was the La Crosse National Bank in Wisconsin. Soon, public buildings, movie theaters, and other facilities started to adopt cooling for comfort. The first residential installation (a 20-foot-long unit), was completed in a mansion in Minneapolis in 1914. Another major development came in 1931, when the first window units were installed. They were initially bulky and expensive, but their design would later be modified to be more compact and to make mass production possible. By 1947, tens of thousands of window units had been sold.
Most people didn’t have air-conditioned homes until the 1950s at the earliest. Central air conditioning was installed in the White House’s West Wing in 1929, but was not installed throughout the rest of the White House until 1952! By the 1970s, though, Residential AC systems were considered a standard feature in home construction.
Nowadays, we take air conditioning for granted. It’s in our homes and in our cars, and going to a place of business such as a restaurant that lacks climate control and proper ventilation seems unthinkable to most people.
During the summer, air conditioning is synonymous with comfort. Fortunately, if your AC is having a problem, you don’t have to transport snow from faraway mountains as Emperor Elagabalus did, or hang a wet cloths in your doorway as the Ancient Egyptians are believed to have done. You can call us!
We perform AC repairs throughout Mercer County, NJ and can get your home’s cooling system working again. Whether you need a thermostat replacement in Princeton, NJ or a repair for your boiler in West Windsor, NJ, we can help.
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