Thanks Mr. Carrier – The History Of Commercial Air Conditioners

As the summer sun blazes and we wake to 90 degree temperatures at 8AM, most of us are very thankful that we feel the cool comfortable environment provided to us by our air conditioners. However, the a/c we’ve learned to know and love didn’t come to our residences until almost 30 years after the first commercial cooling system was invented.

By definition: In common use, an air conditioner is a device that lowers the air temperature. The cooling is typically achieved through a refrigeration cycle, but sometimes evaporation or free cooling is used. Air conditioning systems can also be made based on desiccants.[1]

How We Began to Be Cool

History tells us that as far back as ancient Egypt reeds were hung in window openings and then moistened with trickling water. The hot air blowing through the wet reeds caused an evaporation effect that provided some cool air. Ancient Romans used the aqueduct system to circulate through the walls of certain homes. Medieval Persia used cisterns and wind towers to cool areas during the hot season.

Ancient Persian Cisterns

Fast forward to 1902 and let us introduce you to a young engineer by the name of Willis Carrier. The Buffalo Forge Company hired Mr. Carrier to work with one of their clients, the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithography and Publishing Company in Brooklyn, NY, who was printing a multiple color job. Because of the humidity and heat in the pressroom, the paper would naturally absorb the moisture making it impossible for the publisher to align the colors to insure the final product was consistent.

Willis_Carrier_1915The publisher charged young Mr. Carrier with the challenge to have the temperature in the pressroom be a minimum of 70 degrees in the winter, a maximum of 80 degrees in the summer and maintain a consistent humidity level of 35%. Carrier quickly addressed the room temperature issue but the humidity level left him perplexed.

Fog? Enter Electromechanical Cooling

Willis Carrier was an extremely focused man and because of that was considered to be a little absentminded. It was once said he packed his suitcase for a trip and only brought along one handkerchief. It was on one of those trips when Mr. Carrier was standing on a heavily fogged in train platform that he realized how he could create the ideal environment for the pressroom.

History-1876-1902-startingtheengine-lg-032812Fog is 100% humidity and Willis Carrier knew that if he could create 100% humidity inside the pressroom he could then work to reduce the humidity to an acceptable level. But the query was how to accomplish that task. With fans and a garden sprinkler he set to the task of raising the humidity in the pressroom. His idea worked and the room was full of fog within a few moments. By pushing hot dry air into the room, he was able to reduce the humidity to 50% and then with some tweaking brought the humidity to the acceptable levels.

He patented his air conditioning machine in 1906 and as they say the rest is history.

Thanks Daddy Cool

While Mr. Carrier may not have been the ‘inventor’ of air conditioning per se, he is, in-fact, regarded as the father of air conditioning. His vision and foresight lead to other discoveries such as dew point control and other environmental systems that are used today throughout the world.

The air conditioning systems that came after Carrier’s invention created better working environments in factories and offices.  Today commercial air condition systems are installed on rooftops and use the same basic principals created over 115 years ago by Mr. Carrier.