An air conditioner is one of the most valuable appliances in homes and commercial buildings in the 21st century. During summer, indoor temperatures and humidity could rise to unbearable levels. As we appreciate this ingenious invention, it is worth knowing the story behind it.

Willis Carrier: The Inventor of the Air Conditioner

The father of the air conditioner is Willis Haviland Carrier, who invented the first modern air conditioner in 1902. Carrier was a brilliant engineer who, at the time, was trying to solve an application problem at Sackett & Wilhelms Lithography and Printing Company. The printing plant was facing issues with its multi-coloring printing process because of varying humidity.

The fluctuating humidity made paper expand and contract, causing deviations in the layers of ink. As a result, the plant was forced to deal with excess scrap and waste. They had to call in an expert to help them solve the problem.

Sackett & Wilhelms thus sought the help of Walter Timmis, a consulting engineer who in turn reached out to J. Irvine Lyle, the head of Buffalo Forge. Buffalo Forge was a supplier of fans, forges, and hot blast heaters. Lyle’s company also employed skilled engineers who designed unique solutions for clients, and Carrier was one of those engineers. Carrier was then asked to come up with a system that would regulate humidity in the Sackett & Wilhelms manufacturing plant in Brooklyn, NY.

The Birth of the Air Conditioner

For this system design, Carrier experimented with the properties of humidity and came to a solution that would lay the foundation for the modern air conditioner. His system borrowed heavily from the concepts of mechanical refrigeration. The system worked to send air through coils that were filled with cold water to cool the air while also removing moisture in the room.

That summer, Carrier’s design was installed together with a system of fans, heaters, pipes, and ducts. The design was created to regulate humidity at 55% year-round, and it worked. Needless to say, Carrier’s invention was a success.

After realizing the potential in his first machine, Carrier continued to develop tools for controlling humidity and temperature in buildings and factories. He developed a counterintuitive technique of drying air by using a spray of water, which condenses more water in the air. From this idea, Carrier learned that if the spray of water is heated the air’s dew point could be controlled, and thus, a particular humidity can be guaranteed.

Carrier Air Conditioning Company

With his successful inventions, Carrier was able to climb the management ladder by 1907. By this time, the company had successfully installed its air conditioning systems in factories around the globe. The management then created an air conditioning company that they named The Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America, which officially took off in 1909.

Carrier presented his extensive work in the air conditioning field in a prolific document titled “Rational Psychometric Formulae,” which was presented to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1911. The Carrier Air Conditioning Company continued to lead in the air conditioning field in the following years. It sold machines to candy factories, breweries, food suppliers, malt houses, meat packaging facilities, and shipbuilders among others.

The Carrier Engineering Corporation

In 1914, WWI disrupted economies, and Buffalo Forge was no exception. As a result, the company dissolved Carrier Air Conditioning. However, Lyle and Carrier were determined to continue with their pursuit, and in 1915, they founded Carrier Engineering Corporation.

The new company’s business picked up when it started landing contracts from a number of clients. Notably, the company was contracted to bring air conditioning to the Atlas Power Company substations in 1918. The cooling system helped achieve a stable power grid as well as a safer working environment. Additionally, the company served in the cooling of ammunition plants that were working nonstop because of the war. Air conditioning had changed the manufacturing process forever.

More and More Inventions

In 1922, Carrier designed a new AC with a chiller or a refrigeration machine. Chillers removed heat from liquid by a vapor compression process. The heated liquid then flows through a heat exchanger where it works to cool air or equipment. Thanks to this invention, the AC became safer and paved the way for units that can be scaled down to fit smaller spaces.

The centrifugal system was introduced to movie theaters in 1924, and thus, theatres became places where people went to relax and cool off. In 1926, growth skyrocketed, and the Milam Building in Texas became the first skyscraper with air conditioning from the basement to the roof. At this point, AC technology had become popular in American society and was spreading across the globe.

In 1933, the company developed an AC that had a belt-driven condensing unit and a blower, mechanical controls, and an evaporator coil. This device became the model for our modern-day air-cooling systems.

The Modern-day Air Conditioner Versus Carrier’s 1933 System

Although today’s air conditioners operate using the same concept as the 1933 system, there are major improvements to it. Modern-day ACs incorporate advancements in diagnostics and controls, vapor compression, materials, electronic sensors, and energy efficiency. For instance, the Infinity, one of Carrier’s newest central air conditioners, has advanced features such as the two-stage scroll compressor, which offers quieter and more energy-efficient performance.

Portable AC Units

While Willis Carrier is credited as the founder of the modern air conditioner, it is Frederick Jones who invented the first portable AC unit. Jones created units that were largely used in field military hospitals to keep wounded soldiers comfortable as they recovered. Jones had up to 60 patents of his inventions. One of his patents was a refrigeration design for food transport trucks.

Who Coined the Term “Air Conditioner?”

After Carrier introduced his invention, Stuart Cramer invented a similar device, which worked to add moisture to the air inside textile plants. Cramer who was a mill engineer, named his invention an “air conditioner” because it modified air to become moist and cool. And this is where the term “air conditioner” originated. Cramer’s device was installed in mills and plants to enhance work environments, which would in turn improve productivity.

Willis Carrier’s Achievements

Apart from becoming the father of the air conditioner, Willis Carrier went ahead to achieve honorary doctorates from Lehigh University and Alfred University in 1935 and 1942, respectively. In 1985, more than three decades after his death, Willis Carrier was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. And in 1998, Carrier was listed among Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.”

Contact Summit Heating & AC for Air Conditioning Installation

Thanks to Willis Carrier’s work and advancement in the field, we can live comfortably even in the harshest weather conditions. At Summit Heating & AC, we strive to continue Carrier’s legacy by providing expert heating and furnace services. We provide our Denver clients with services that include heating installation and replacement, furnace replacement, furnace repair, heating and furnace tune-up, emergency furnace repair, and heat pump repair. To get more information on our heating and furnace services, contact us today!

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