Air conditioning is a comfort that has been present in most American homes since the 1940s. Thanks to this modern marvel, when the weather heats up we are still able to keep cool and comfortable inside our homes. Air conditioning can be taken for granted until it stops working; if this happens on a hot summer day, it will be the only thing on your mind! Not only does air conditioning keep us cool in our homes, but there are hospitals, laboratories and data storage centers that would be greatly hampered without this great invention. If your HVAC system is not functioning properly as summer is closing in, contact Comfort Specialties in Greenville to make sure that you keep cool and comfortable during the hottest months. Things were not always so cool, and it took many years and inventions to lead us to the air conditioning we enjoy today.
Early Cooling Systems
Keeping cool in the summer has occupied humans from the beginning: whether that was finding a cool cave to rest it, or a flowing stream to refresh in from the heat. Up until the 1900s the main form of cooling off was fanning yourself and seeking shade. There had been attempts in ancient Rome to cool indoor air, circulating the cool aqueduct water through walls of wealthy homeowners. An emperor in the third century, Elagabalus, imported a mountain of snow to be kept next to his home to cool him in the hot summer months. Obviously this method was only reserved for the very rich, and was impractical. Many cultures utilized the architecture of homes to draw in cool air, or keep out hot summer sun.
Electricity paved the way for modern air conditioning. Use of fans were seen throughout history, with a hand-cranked room fan as early as the second century. Fans became more elaborate with Nikola Tesla’s work in alternating current motors, and resulted in the invention of oscillating fans in the early 1900s. The quest to truly be cool continued however, and fans were not going to cut it. Electricity was a key component in the development of a functioning air cooling system.
Dr. John Gorrie
In the mid 1800s, Dr. John Gorrie pushed for cooling innovation that he thought would be good for avoiding diseases caused by high temperatures. Although his premise was incorrect, he valiantly tried to cool hospital rooms with ice that was shipped into Florida from frozen northern streams. While this was expensive and a logistical nightmare, it didn’t stop Gorrie from continuing to try to find ways to cool the air. He also experimented with artificial cooling, and did develop a compressor that could create ice. He got a patent, but lost financial backing, and although he was not successful, he was instrumental in the quest for air conditioning.
The next major step in air conditioning was found not in residential or hospital cooling, but in trying to solve the mystery of wrinkled magazines. In 1902 Buffalo Forge Company was trying to figure out a solution to humidity wrinkling magazine pages at Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn. They hired Willis Carrier to help tackle this problem, and in doing so he designed something that reduced humidity by cooling the air with coils. He got a patent for this creation, which he called an “Apparatus for Treating Air” and it utilized coils that could either dehumidify the air by cooling water, or humidify the air by heating the water. This led him to also develop an automatic control system that could control the temperature inside of textile mills. It was soon apparent that this technology could be used in many different settings and applications, and Carrier formed his own company.
The first time that air conditioning made a big public debut was at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Imagine stepping into the Missouri State Building, out of the heat and into the artificially cooled world that was created inside this building. The system they used pumped 35,000 cubic feet of air per minute into a 1,000 seat auditorium, the rotunda and other parts of the building.
Movie theaters used to be an escape from the summer heat, one of the only places that one could find refuge and cool down. The systems used originally in movie theaters were modified from the heating systems, and used refrigeration equipment that pumped cold air through the floor vents. This resulted in freezing temperatures at the floor, and a hot, swampy environment in the upper balconies. Carrier debuted their first movie theater cooling system at the Metropolitan Theater in Los Angeles, which left the theater more comfortable and less humid. They innovated further, and in 1922 they had a new way of cooling using a centrifugal chiller that was more reliable and less costly than previous air conditioners. This was first used at the Rivoli Theater in New York, and the lower cost helped expand this technology throughout the country.
Even though so many advances had been made in cooling, it still proved too expensive for the average homeowner. Frigidaire and General Electric both came out with room cooling systems in the 1930s, and General Motors engineers were the first to synthesize chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were the world’s first non-flammable refrigerant fluids. These made air conditioners safer, but CFCs were eventually shown to be harmful to the environment, especially the ozone layer. Improvements have been made, and are continually being made, to make sure that cooling is environmentally friendly. The 1930s also saw the first window air conditioning unit, developed by H.H. Schultz and J. Q. Sherman. These units were smaller, but still too expensive. In 1947 engineer Henry Galson developed another window unit that was more compact, and less expensive. 43,000 of these units were sold that year, and this marked the first widespread use of home cooling systems. Fast forward only 20 years to the late 1960s, and most new homes were being built with central air conditioning. Air conditioning has made it possible to live comfortably year round in climates such as Texas and Florida. Air conditioning is now found in over 85 percent of all American homes.
It was a long road to get where we are today, with air conditioning something that is no longer seen as a luxury, but a necessity. Today, air conditioning has become more and more efficient, but to make sure your system is in top condition, give our HVAC specialists a call! Don’t resort to a mountain of snow in your backyard, or humidity making your home a swamp: get your air conditioning working today!