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The History of Air Conditioning and Air Conditioners

In 1902, only one year after Willis Haviland Carrier graduated from Cornell University with a Masters in Engineering, the first air (temperature and humidity) conditioning was in operation, making one Brooklyn printing plant owner very happy. Fluctuations in heat and humidity in his plant had caused the dimensions of the printing paper to keep altering slightly, enough to ensure a misalignment of the colored inks. The new air conditioning machine created a stable environment and aligned four-color printing became possible. All thanks to the new employee at the Buffalo Forge Company, who started on a salary of only $10.00 per week.

The ‘Apparatus for Treating Air’ (U.S. Pat# 808897) granted in 1906, was the first of several patents awarded to Willis Haviland Carrier. The recognized ‘father of air conditioning’ is Carrier, but the term ‘air conditioning’ actually originated with textile engineer, Stuart H. Cramer. Cramer used the phrase ‘air conditioning’ in a 1906 patent claim filed for a device that added water vapor to the air in textile plants – to condition the yarn.

In 1911, Willis Haviland Carrier disclosed his basic Rational Psychrometric Formulae to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The formula still stands today as the basis in all fundamental calculations for the air conditioning industry. Carrier said he received his ‘flash of genius’ while waiting for a train. It was a foggy night and he was going over in his mind the problem of temperature and humidity control. By the time the train arrived, Carrier had an understanding of the relationship between temperature, humidity and dew point.

Industries flourished with the new ability to control the temperature and humidity levels during and after production. Film, tobacco, processed meats, medical capsules, textiles and other products acquired significant improvements in quality with air conditioning. Willis and six other engineers formed the Carrier Engineering Corporation in 1915 with a starting capital of $35,000 (1995 sales topped $5 billion). The company was dedicated to improving air conditioning technology.

In 1921, Willis Haviland Carrier patented the centrifugal refrigeration machine. The ‘centrifugal chiller’ was the first practical method of air conditioning large spaces. Previous refrigeration machines used reciprocating-compressors (piston-driven) to pump refrigerant (often toxic and flammable ammonia) throughout the system. Carrier designed a centrifugal-compressor similar to the centrifugal turning-blades of a water pump. The result was a safer and more efficient chiller.

This is a timeline of historical facts about the development of the air-conditioning industry and facts that all led up to the modernization of the air conditioning system and all things effecting refrigeration and air conditioning.

1882 – Thanks to Thomas Edison the first electric power plant opens in New York making it possible for the first time to have an inexpensive source of energy for residential and commercial buildings.

1889 – Central station refrigeration is used in large cities to preserve foods and documents.

1902 – Willis Carrier builds the first air conditioner to combat humidity inside a printing company. Controlling the humidity in printing companies and textile mills was the start of managing the inside environments.

1906 – Willis Carrier patents his invention calling it an “Apparatus for Treating Air.”

1906 – Stuart W. Cramer coins the term “Air Conditioning.”

1913 – The first international exposition devoted exclusively to refrigeration is held in Chicago.

1917 – The first documented theater to use refrigeration is the New Empire Theatre in Montegomery, Alabama. In that same year, the Central Park Theater in Chicago is built to incorporate the new technology: air conditioning.

1928 – The Chamber of the House of Representatives becomes air conditioned.

1929 – The Senate becomes air conditioned.

1930 – The White House, the Executive Office Building, the Department of Commerce are air-conditioned.

1942 – Pepco becomes the nation’s first summer peaking utility.

1946 – After World War II, the demand for room air-conditioners begins to increase. Thirty thousand room air-conditioners are produced that year.

1947Air conditioning becomes a bargaining issue when textile workers in North Carolina strike because of stressful heat and humidity in the workplace.

1950 – A major study shows that families living in air conditioned homes sleep longer in summer, enjoy their food more and have more leisure time.

1953 – Room air conditioner sales exceed one million units with demand still exceeding supply.

1953 – The Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute is formed from two associations: the Refrigeration Equipment Manufacturers Association and the Air-Conditioning and Refrigerating Machinery Association.

1955 – Mass marketing of frozen dinners begins: ads promote “TV dinners.”

1957 – The first rotary compressor was introduced, permitting units to be smaller, quieter, weigh less, and more efficient than the reciprocating type.

1969 – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon in space suits with life support and cooling systems.

1977 – New technology allows heat pumps to operate at lower outdoor temperatures while heating on the reversed refrigeration cycle.

1987 – The United Nations Montreal Protocol for protection of the earth’s ozone layer is signed. The Protocol establishes international cooperation on the of stratospheric ozone depleting substances, including the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants used in some refrigeration and air conditioning equipment.

1990 – ARI, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy, initiates the Materials Compatibility Lubricants Research (MCLR) program, which helps manufacturers to accelerate away from CFC refrigerants.

1992 – The R-22 Alternative Refrigeration Evaluation Program (AREP) begins a four-year program to investigate alternatives to R-502 and HCFC-22.

1995 – Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) production in the United States ends December 31.

1997 – North American Technician Excellence (NATE) formed to promote excellence in technicians who install and service air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment. The NATE certified logo means the best!

1998 – Research for the 21st Century, a multi-year, million dollar research program for air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment, begins. The objective is to decrease building energy usage while improving indoor air quality.

1998 – Shipments of unitary air conditioners and heat pumps set a record of more than 6.2 million units.

1998 – After receiving five annual awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for contributions to environmental protection, ARI was awarded a Best of the Best award for continued environmental concern.

For more information on “The Father of Cool” Willis Haviland Carrier, click here for the full article from

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