When hot temperatures arrive, Americans turn immediately to their air conditioners. With a flick of a switch, muggy homes turn to a cool oasis. However, most people are unaware of the history of the air conditioner or how recently it has been adopted for use by the general public. To that end, let’s talk about the modern air conditioner and how we got where we are today.
The Good Ol’ Days
Although many people have fond memories of the good ol’ days, our minds tend to weed out the more unpleasant aspects: Dentist equipment reminiscent of your father’s toolbox, outhouses, plague outbreaks, and sweaty July nights with no air conditioning.
Prior to modern air conditioning, people had to figure out how to deal with hot weather. This consisted of sweating profusely, fanning oneself, drinking cool beverages, strategically placing windows to catch the breeze, and sleeping outside to escape the trapped heat from the daytime sun. Yes, we may long for the simplicity of days gone by, but do we really want to give up our climate-controlled environments, especially when temperatures climb into the triple digits?
It shouldn’t surprise you that the Romans were invested in finding a way to stay cool during the hot summer months. Wealthy citizens had the option of cooling their homes with water from the aqueduct system. The water would circulate in the walls, cooling the interior temperature.
Other ingenious ideas included building a mountain of snow imported by donkeys. This mountain was installed next to an emperor’s summer villa. In addition to keeping his home cool, area youth would eat the snow to stay cool. Some laughed at the efforts, suggesting that “real Romans” could bear the heat.
In most cases, hand fans were used to cool individuals suffering from the heat. A Chinese inventor also created the first room-sized rotary fan. Of course, this, too, was powered by hand.
During the Dark Ages, there were no gains in controlling the indoor climate, and most advances were lost. However, during the 1800’s, efforts to cool homes began in earnest in the West. When James Garfield was President, he used an unusual device to stay cool. Air was blown through ice-water-soaked cotton fabric. Though it did help, in just two months, President Garfield went through 0.5 million pounds of ice.
20th Century Advances
Finally, some big scientific breakthroughs made cooling easier. The first was electricity. The second was Nikola Tesla’s invention of the alternating current motor, which allowed fans to oscillate.
However, blowing hot air to be cool, though better than nothing, still was not enough. And that is why 25-year-old Willis Carrier worked on a real solution. In 1902, he invented the first modern air-conditioner. This invention was not for the comfort of people but to control humidity in a printing plant where he worked. His bosses at Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company were upset that the humidity was making magazine pages wrinkle.
It took another 20 years before Carrier was able to figure out how to reduce the unit’s size. During this time, he started his own company known as the Carrier Engineering Corporation. He and six other engineers worked to bring air conditioning to a wide variety of industries. Then, in 1925, the first air conditioner was introduced for public consumption at the Rivoli Theater in Times Square.
This is where air conditioning stayed for years. People would head to local theaters to enjoy the comfort of cooled air while watching a movie. Thus, the summer blockbuster was born.
Eventually, air conditioning became commonplace in department stores, offices, and trains. Businesses were happy to add the convenience because doing so made workers far more productive. Households, however, had to wait a while longer.
Embracing Air Conditioning
Statistics show that in 1965, only ten percent of households had air conditioning. The systems were just too large and too expensive. Engineers worked tirelessly to solve these problems. Names like Faust, Midgley, Henne, McNary, Schultz, Sherman, Galson and more worked tirelessly to make units smaller, use better cooling technologies, and be available to retrofit older homes.
A mere 40 years later, 86 percent of households had it. By 2016, 95 percent of multi-family dwellings such as apartments and condos have air conditioning, followed closely by 93% of single-family homes. Another amazing statistic is that almost half of all energy consumption in the US is spent heating and cooling homes.
In addition to helping people stay cooler during hot months, air conditioning changed the United States. For decades, cities with unbearable summer heat, mostly Southern cities, saw very little growth. No one wanted to locate businesses in the sweltering heat. Once air conditioning was commonplace, Sun Belt cities became viable alternatives to the cold North, and the population in the US shifted.
But what about Europe and other areas of the world? These areas have been much slower to adopt air conditioning. Although it is finally catching on in large European cities, developing countries still make do without it.
The Future of Air Conditioning
What’s in store for air conditioning in the 21st century and beyond? Without a doubt, air conditioning is going to become more efficient and sustainable. The next big advancement on the horizon in air conditioning technology will be the use of non-vapor compression technology. This technology does not use harmful HFCs and will reduce energy consumption by up to 50%.
Air conditioning, though it took years to become a household word is here to stay. With NTD Mechanical, you will never have to wonder what it would be like to live and work without air conditioning. Because we are licensed and fully-trained by every manufacturer, you will always receive the most up-to-date information and cutting-edge solutions to meet your specific needs. Call us today for all your commercial HVAC needs.