A Short History of Air Conditioning

As the weather gets warmer, most of us are going to start relying on one of Texas’ best friends: the air conditioner. For most people, it’s as simple as turning up the thermostat and not thinking about it until it gets cooler. But have you ever wondered how air conditioning was invented? Today, we’re going to turn back the clock and find out!

Snow and ice have been used for cooling and refrigeration for thousands of years, but the first rotary fan was invented by Ding Huan of the Han dynasty in China sometime in the second century. The Chinese continued to iterate on the rotary fan, primarily favoring water-powered designs. In the 1800s, a couple of different ideas for machines to make ice and use it for cooling were patented, but it wasn’t until 1902 that the modern air conditioner began to take shape.

Schematic drawing of the first air conditioner, 1902
© United Technologies Corporation 2019

Willis Carrier was an engineer, tasked with solving an issue with humidity that was causing magazine pages to wrinkle at a printing company in New York. His machine sent air through cold coils and was able to control the temperature as well as the humidity of a room. In 1906, Stuart Cramer, who owned a textile mill, created a humidifier for the mill and called it an “air conditioner” in his patent, as an analogue to water conditioning. Carrier used this term when he founded the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America, the first HVAC company and the largest in the world today.

The first centrifugal chiller
© United Technologies Corporation 2019

Carrier was focused primarily on industrial applications. In 1922, Carrier debuted the first centrifugal chiller, which was far more reliable and cheaper than previous large air conditioners and allowed for a larger variety of applications of the technology. It wasn’t until 1929 when Frigidaire released the first in-home room cooler that homes began to be air conditioned, but the unit’s size and price kept its popularity low. Henry Galson invented a smaller, cheaper air conditioner that went on the market in 1933, and by 1947 over 43,000 home air conditioners had been manufactured and sold by multiple different companies.

By 1970, new homes were typically built with central air conditioning, and improvements to the technology allowed affordable, efficient units to be available to the entire country. Today air conditioning is in almost 100 million American homes, in addition to cars, schools, businesses, and more. Modern units are more compact and efficient than ever and will keep you comfortable all year long.

Is it time to upgrade your industrial or commercial air conditioning system? Maybe your old one could be running better? Call Reliable Plant Maintenance today and we’ll make sure your system is running as efficiently as possible, for today and the future.

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