The modern air conditioner has become a common household item in today’s world, but there was a time when people struggled to deal with high temperature and humidity. They did not have any device that could offer them a convenient and cost-effective method to cool the air. What led to the invention of the air conditioner? Where was the first modern air conditioner installed? Who can we thank for this invaluable convenience of being able to just press a button to get the cool air flowing in our homes and offices? Read on to find out.
What Was the Need to Have an Air Conditioner?
You might think that the air conditioner was invented for the comfort of people at home, or for a specific region that had a hot and humid climate that required an air conditioner. The air conditioner was invented for commercial purposes and it was developed and installed in the state of New York, which can get extremely cold during the winter.
During the 19th century, America made great progress in manufacturing with new types of factories were being built all over the country. Printing factories especially struggled with variations in temperature and humidity of the environment, as they used ink to print on paper. This was a process that required consistency and precision. With the temperature fluctuations, the paper used to shrink or expand, which required the printing machines to be recalibrated for proper alignment for printing.
One such paper factory by the name of Sackett & Williams in Brooklyn, NY, hired an engineering firm to offer a solution that would solve this issue caused by fluctuations in temperature and humidity. One of the engineers working on this solution was only 25 years old at that time and it had only been one year since he graduated with an engineering degree from Cornell University. He was passionate about experimental engineering and looked for innovative ways to solve engineering problems. His name was Willis Haviland Carrier.
The Air Conditioner Is Invented
Carrier was energized by the challenge given to him by his employers. He immediately started gathering data and tested different hypotheses to find a solution to the problem. The solution for a printing press had to be able to cool the temperature and reduce the humidity without adding any odor or salt to the air.
After a series of quick experiments, Carrier developed a device that had a channel of chilled water flowing through metal coils. As air would be guided to flow through this channel, the heat from the air would be removed. Carrier had to make several adjustments to fine-tune his concept, but this initial device became the blueprint of the modern air conditioner. Not only did Carrier invent the modern air conditioner, but he invented a whole new industry. In late 1902, this device was installed at Sackett & Williams factory. The water was drawn from a nearby well and it was chilled using an ammonia compressor. The device was set up to maintain a humidity of 55% and have the cooling effect of melting 108,000 pounds of ice per day. The air conditioner installed at Sacket & Williams delivered excellent results. The results confirmed the reliability of the device and the credibility of Carrier as an exceptionally gifted engineer.
Carrier later shared that this idea of the modern air conditioner came to him on a foggy day in the fall of 1902 while he was waiting for the train at the platform. Looking at the fog, Carrier wondered if he could create fog by controlling the moisture in the air through a device. It was this time that he thought of the counter-intuitive but brilliant idea of passing air through water to remove the heat from the air. That is how the fundamental concept of the modern air conditioner was first conceived.
The Rapid Success of the Air Conditioner
The engineering firm that Willis worked for, Buffalo Forge, was able to develop this device invented by Carrier into a product. The sales team of Buffalo Forge was delighted to have a product like in this lineup and sold the air conditioner for several types for types of applications. The rapid success of the air conditioner saw it leap into different industries including textile mills, pharmaceutical plants, and more.
Carrier’s invention made waves across the globe. A major milestone in the history of the air conditioner was its installation at Fuji Silk Spinning Company in Japan in 1907. Later that year, Buffalo Forge formed a wholly-owned subsidiary to focus on air conditioning products. This company was called the Carrier Air Conditioning Company, a name that was a tribute to the leadership of Carrier in the success of the air conditioner.
For the next few years, the Carrier Air Conditioning Company made great strides in sales and refinement of the air conditioning technology. Eventually, the air conditioner made its way to residential properties. It started with only the rich who could afford the air conditioner but as more innovations rolled out, the air conditioner becomes more affordable. What started as a specific engineering solution to a paper mill, was now a requirement of many residential properties. Carrier wrote several technical documents about the concepts of the air conditioner. These documents gained immense popularity in the technical circles, and some of these documents were made part of engineering textbooks.
The Formation of the Willis Carrier Corporation
The advent of World War I disrupted the economies of the world and several companies had to change their strategies, while some even had to struggle for survival. It was decided by Buffalo Forge that the Carrier Air Conditioning Company would be closed. Fortunately, Carrier had an unwavering spirit and higher ambitions for his invention that kept the air-conditioner alive. He formed a new company, The Willis Carrier Corporation, which was going to manufacture and sell air conditioning products across the globe.
After WW1 was over, Willis Carrier Corporation accelerated its sales and had some of the biggest companies in the world as its customers. The company went on to develop the “chiller” and other innovative and highly successful products. Within six years of its formation, over 200 industries were served by the products of Willis Carrier Corporation.
Impact of the Air Conditioner
It is impossible to fully appreciate the immense impact of the invention of the air conditioner. Not only did it allow America to accelerate its manufacturing growth, and helped millions of people live a more comfortable life, but it also symbolized America as the world leader in innovation and development of technology. It also allowed millions of Americans to migrate to the South, which was considered too hot to live by many that had settled in the North. It allowed many products to be developed which would not be possible without controlling the temperature or humidity of the environment. Carrier was a genius, and he gave the world an invaluable gift.
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At Beyer Air Conditioning & Heating, we offer a complete range of heating, cooling, and air conditioning (HVAC) services and parts. We serve residents of San Antonia, TX, and surrounding locations. Apart from air conditioning services, we offer heater installation and repair, air duct cleaning and repair, VPR systems, new construction and custom remodels, and indoor air quality service. To schedule an appointment with us at Beyer Air Conditioning & Heating, you can reach us through our website, or you can give us a call.