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The History of Air Conditioning

Posted 07-22-19 in Air Conditioning

If you go inside to get comfortable during the blazing summer heat, you can be thankful for Dr. Gorrie and Willis Carrier, the forefathers of cool. Learn more about the history of air conditioning below!

Ice Was the Original Air Conditioner

In the 1840s, physician and inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Florida introduced the idea of cooling cities to relieve residents of "the evils of high temperatures" such as diseases like malaria. His initial idea for cooling hospital rooms was to ship ice to Florida from frozen streams and lakes in the cold-weather areas of the U.S. This obviously was an expensive, unsustainable model for refrigeration, so Gorrie got back to work experimenting with a concept of artificial cooling. 

His initial artificial cooling machine created ice using a compressor powered by a horse, water, or steam and he was granted a patent for it in 1851. 

After his patent was granted, Gorrie was ultimately unsuccessful in bringing his invention to the marketplace due to the death of his financial backer. However, he had blazed the initial trail that led to modern air conditioning and refrigeration. 

Solving Printing Problems Through Air Conditioning: Willis Carrier

In 1902, Willis Carrier, working for the Buffalo Forge Company, was tasked with solving a printing problem at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn.

High humidity had been causing paper to wrinkle before it was being fed into the printing presses, and this resulted in poor reproduction. If there was only a way to remove the humidity, then the wrinkled paper would not be a problem anymore.

Carrier worked through many experiments before designing a system that controlled humidity using cooling coils and secured a patent for his "Apparatus for Treating Air.”


Soon thereafter, Carrier realized that humidity control and air conditioning could benefit more industries, and he eventually left Buffalo Forge, forming Carrier Engineering Corporation with six other engineers.

In 1922, Carrier Engineering Corporation installed the first well-designed cooling system for theaters at Metropolitan Theater in Los Angeles, which pumped cool air through higher vents for better humidity control and comfort throughout the building.

Home-Based Air Conditioning Breakthrough

Despite advancements in cooling technologies, existing systems were too large and expensive for installation in homes. Home cooling systems became smaller after H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman filed a patent for an air conditioning unit that could be placed on a window ledge. The new designs went to market in 1932 but were not widely purchased due to their high cost.

Engineer Henry Galson went on to develop a more compact, inexpensive version of the window air conditioner, and by 1947, 43,000 of these systems were sold.

By the late 1960s, most new homes had central air conditioning, and window air conditioners became less expensive. Air conditioning is now in nearly 100 million American homes, representing 87 percent of all households, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Energy Department Efficiency Standards Lead to Innovation

Air conditioners have come a long way since the 1840s! Since 1992, the Energy Department has issued conservation standards for manufacturers of residential central air conditioners and heat pumps. The initial standard is expected to net about $29 billion in energy bill savings between 1993 to 2023. Impressively, new air conditioners today use about 50 percent less energy than they did in 1990.  Modern-day air conditioning units are energy-efficient, can be integrated with smart-home automation systems, and can save you money in the long run.

Wishing you could stay cooler this summer? Coolray is your Atlanta-area home comfort expert, specializing in installation, repair, and service of heating and air conditioning systems. If you have questions or need to schedule a service, we’d be happy to help – just contact us or schedule online!

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