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Willis Carrier: The Father of the Air Conditioner

The first modern air conditioner was invented in 1902 by Willis Haviland Carrier, a skilled engineer who began experimenting with the laws of humidity control to solve an application problem at a printing plant in Brooklyn, NY. Borrowing from the concepts of mechanical refrigeration established in earlier years, Carrier’s system sent air through coils filled with cold water, cooling the air while at the same time removing moisture to control room humidity. In 1933, the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America developed an air conditioner using a belt-driven condensing unit and associated blower, mechanical controls, and evaporator coil, and this device became the model in the growing U.S. marketplace for air-cooling systems. Today’s air conditioners, while operating on the same fundamental science as Carrier’s 1933 system, incorporate advancements in vapor compression, diagnostics and controls, electronic sensors, materials, and energy efficiency. Carrier’s new top-of-the line central air conditioner, the Infinity, is far different than the founder’s early models, featuring advanced components including a two-stage scroll compressor for quieter, more energy-efficient performance.

Time Line

1902: Willis Carrier invents a machine to help keep paper from being ruined by the humidity. Called the Apparatus for Treating Air, the invention uses a technique similar to the one created by Gorrie; air blows over cold coils to control the temperature and humidity. Other companies express interest in the machine, so Carrier starts the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America. He will go down in history as the inventor of modern air conditioning.

1906: Textile mill engineer Stuart Cramer invents a ventilating machine that adds water vapor to the air, creating a humid environment that makes the yarn easier to work with.

1925: The air conditioning is introduced to the masses when the Rivoli Theater in New York City adds a Carrier-designed system to cool off patrons.

1931: Inventors H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman create the first individual air conditioning unit designed to function on window ledges. They are made available to the public, but their cost (between $10,000 and $50,000) prove to be too expensive for most consumers.

1939: The first air conditioned car is released.

1950’s: Air conditioning hits the mainstream and, during the post-WWII economic boom, millions of units are installed in houses across America.

1970’s: Central air revolutionizes air conditioning. A ventilation system is created to work with a new kind of unit that includes a condenser, coils and a fan. It brings conditioned air (heated and cooled) throughout the home. A new refrigerant called Freon is developed and helps usher in a new age of residential comfort.

1980: Toshiba invents inverter-type compressors, increasing HVAC efficiency by 30%.

1994: Freon is deemed harmful to the environment and more eco-friendly coolants are developed by brands including Carrier and Honeywell.

Present: Though there haven’t been any major innovations in the HVAC industry since the 70’s, the technology has become more energy-efficient and the options for conditioned air are myriad. Hybrid heating systems, geothermal systems, zoned systems and many more variations on the typical HVAC are commercially available.

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