November 26, 2021

The secret history of air conditioners

The secret history of air conditioners

Summer is still in full swing and high temperatures are forcing people all over Bulgaria to keep their air conditioning on almost constantly. Of course, we should be grateful that with the push of a button we can save ourselves from the terrible temperatures – think about the situation only a century ago! The innovation that the common air-conditioning systems bring to people’s lives is not only revolutionary, but also vital at times. But when and how were air conditioners firstly developed and how did they evolve over the years? Let’s find out in the following article, where we will present a brief history of air conditioning.

The predecessors of modern air conditioners

Evidence of mankind’s attempts to cool down mechanically their environment dates back nearly 2,000 years. One of the earliest devices known to history was created by the Chinese inventor Ding Huang. He assembled a hand-operated fan designed to inject air indoors. In the 3rd century, a system was developed in Rome to import ice with donkeys from local mountain ranges to cool Emperor Elagabalus’ garden.

Ordinary Romans, meanwhile, tried to cool their rooms by running cold water from aqueducts through the walls of their homes. The Chinese continued the evolution of the device invented by Ding Huang, and in the eighth century built a water-powered fan in one of the imperial palaces. During the next Song Dynasty (960 – 1279), fans became extremely popular.

The Middle Ages brought significant progress in the development of cooling systems. For the most part, people relied on architecture, building rooms with huge openings on the outside so that a current was formed and at the same time as little sunlight as possible entered. Forever in history will remain an experiment related to air conditioning and carried out by the American patriot and inventor Benjamin Franklin.

In 1759, he and Professor John Hadley of the University of Cambridge discovered how to freeze water by evaporating alcohol and other volatile liquids on the surface of the water. Decades later, in 1820, the Englishman Michael Faraday achieved similar results by liquefying ammonia.

This period marked intensified efforts in the direction of cooling the air in hospital rooms and other medical premises, which led to the next wave of innovation. In 1830, John Gore, a Florida physician, decided to study the effects of temperature on the human body, which was related to his observation that there was an epidemic of yellow fever in the south, and in the north the disease was almost non-existent. He succeeded in devising a cooling system that passed airflow through an ice bucket made by an ice machine, and even succeeded in patenting his invention in 1851. Unfortunately, some ice makers decided that the new technology could undermine their business and allied themselves in a common mission against it, effectively cutting off the possibility of this project taking place. However, Dr. Gori remains in history as one of the earliest figures in air-conditioning.

the secret history of air conditioners

Another example from the same period arose after a tragic accident. On July 2, 1881, US President James Garfield was assassinated and died nearly two months later, in September. To alleviate his condition, engineers from the US military built a cooling facility that blew hot air through wet textiles, pushing the cold air down to the patient. Although this worked as an idea, it didn’t prove to be particularly sustainable, nor efficient, as more than 680,000 kilograms of ice were consumed in two months.

Willis Haviland Quarry and modern air conditioners

Although air cooling was the focus of early air conditioners, there was another problem that was not addressed until the end of the 19th century – humidity. Combined with high temperatures, too high content of water vapor in the air not only created discomfort for people, but also hindered a number of industrial processes, such as printing and paper production.

Take a look at our commercial air conditioners

At the beginning of the 20th century, a young engineer from Buffalo, Willis Carrier, was assigned a special task by the Sackett & Wilhelms Lithographing & Printing Co. in Brooklyn. The company was often confronted with poorly dried ink and wrinkled paper, and the general opinion was that air conditioning could solve some of these problems. In 1902, Carrier came up with an extremely successful idea, while waiting at a foggy train station in Pittsburgh. The idea was that humidity control could be achieved by passing air through water to create fog, thus removing excess water from the air. 

the secret history of air conditioners

Carrier tested his theory in a room used for commercial purposes and succeeded. He later received a patent for his invention, in the name of the company in which he was an employee – Buffalo Forge Company. The air was conditioned by running it through a series of zig-zag divider panels. The outflow of the liquid was due to the inert force of the air pushed by the fans through a film placed in the dividing plates.

In 1915, Carrier continued his career, leaving the company he worked for and founding another, the Carrier Engineering Company. The company had a mission to develop better air conditioning equipment – from industrial air conditioners for huge production facilities to small cinemas. It is rumored Carrier helped the film industry a lot during the difficult summer seasons by installing air conditioning in the Rivoli Theater in Times Square in 1925 and taking the lead in cooling cinemas and significantly improving the comfort of spectators.

Carrier is at the heart of some of the most serious innovations in the world of air conditioning. By the end of 1911, he had already developed what would later become known as the Rational Physiometric Formula, which he shared with the American Society of Engineers and became the foundation for making air conditioning calculations. Another of his inventions allows a drastic reduction in the equipment size. His patents have a huge impact on a number of production operations and significantly improve working conditions in factories, plants, hospitals and more.

In the United States, this trend swept the nation – while in 1965 (15 years after Carrier’s death) only 10 percent of American households had air conditioning, in 2007 this figure rose to a staggering 87 percent!

Modern air conditioning

The development of air-conditioning technology continues, and in recent years the focus of manufacturers has been central to the problem of electricity consumption. Statistics show air conditioning has certainly become firmly entrenched in the daily lives of almost all households in the developed countries, and people have become accustomed to the convenience of controlling the temperature around them. In developing countries, sales of air conditioners are also on the rise. With the growing energy consumption worldwide manufacturers come to the realization that the use of ultra-efficient air conditioners is vital for environmental protection.

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