10 Milestones in American Air Conditioning History
1) BEN FRANKLIN’S EARLY DISCOVERY
In the mid-1700s, Ben Franklin found the time (amidst all of his other endeavors) to make an important discovery along with his partner on the project, Cambridge professor John Hadley. They discovered that liquids evaporating the fastest, such as alcohol and a number of other highly volatile liquids that evaporate more rapidly than water, have the ability to cool water to the point of freezing. About seventy years later in 1820, an Inventor in England named Michael Faraday discovered similar findings with a volatile liquid. His chosen substance was ammonia, which he was able to successfully compress and liquefy.
2) DR. JOHN GORRIE PATENTS COOLING MACHINE
In the 1830s, Florida physician Dr. John Gorrie creates a cooling system based on an ice-making machine using compression and a blower to direct air cooled over the ice into rooms. Unfortunately, financing for production of the machine never materialized. As a result, his invention never took off.
3) PRIMITIVE COOLING UNIT CREATED AFTER SHOOTING OF PRESIDENT GARFIELD
It was July 2nd, 1881 when an assassin shot President James Garfield. In attempt to help save his life, naval engineers make a rudimentary cooling unit help keep him comfortable. It effectively lowered room temperature, but was incredibly inefficient, using more than a half million pounds of ice in just two months. Sadly, President Garfield died in spite of all extensive treatment efforts.
4) WILLIS CARRIER’S FIRST GROUND-BREAKING INVENTION
Invented in 1902 by Willis Carrier, the first large-scale cooling and dehumidifying device was aided by the many technological advances achieved in the world of 1800s chemistry – chiefly, the invention of electricity. Carrier created the machine not for the purpose of consumer comfort, but for industrial use. His goal was to create a device that would help control excessive humidity at the printing plant where he worked. Mr. Carrier was just twenty-five when he invented the machine that led many to refer to him as the father of modern air conditioning.
5) CARRIER MAKES IT BETTER
Twenty years later, he invented the centrifugal chiller, which substantially reduced the size of the unit by adding a central compressor. Debuting at a Times Square Theater on Memorial Day of 1925, the invention was a tremendous success. The mass migration to the southwestern region of the US was largely made possible by the creation of this device.
6) PACKARD: THE FIRST AIR CONDITIONED CAR
Circa 1939, the Packard Motor Company debuted the first factory installed air-conditioned car, utilizing a compressor under the hood and refrigerated coils in the backseat. When the interior became too chilly for the comfort of passengers, the driver had to stop the engine, open the hood, and manually disconnect the compressor belt. It would be three more decades before automotive air conditioning was fine-tuned and made widely available through the “Big Three” manufacturers: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.
7) FIRST U.S. “PEAK DEMAND” POWER PLANT BUILT
By 1942, the demand for more electricity to meet air conditioning needs throughout the US calls for the construction of the very first “peak demand”, or “summer peak” power plant.
8) RESIDENTIAL AIR CONDITIONING SPREADS
The 1950s brought the comfort of air conditioning to many residential homes. In the post-war prosperity America enjoyed in these years, millions of families across the nation purchased the pricey units for themselves. The demand was sizable, with more than a million units sold in 1953 itself. Still, it was primarily considered an extravagant luxury item afforded exclusively by the rich. Even following the flurry of sales, the total number of Americans having residential AC in this era amounted to less than 10% of the total population. It would not become more commonplace for several decades.
9) EMERGENCE OF CENTRAL AIR CONDITIONING
The 1970s heralded the arrival of central air conditioning. The units featured the use of a refrigerant called R-12, also now known as Freon.
10) FREON BANNED
Determined in 1994 to contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer, and widely banned. In its place, a refrigerant named R134a is now commonly used. A small collection of companies such as Carrier have since developed even more environmentally friendly coolants for use in their products.
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