More than a century of cold air, thanks to one man’s genius.
Gather round, kids, it’s story time!
July 1902. It was a steamy summer in Boston. In a printing factory in the warehouse district, it was said the humidity was so intense and the heat so heavy that ink was refusing to stick to the paper. It was rolling off the paper in beads, and the printing was at a standstill, and at a loss about what to do.
One man thought about the problem, and theorized a solution.
Willis Carrier engineered the world’s first air conditioning system at the Sackett and Wilhelms printing plant in July 1902, and we have never been the same since.
He designed his machine to pass hot, humid air over coils. He proposed the coils be cooled by a refrigerant, and the moisture would be pulled out the air, through the walls of the coils and into the refrigerant. He was certain this would reduce the humidity, and things at the printing plant could get back to business as usual.
Boy, howdy, did it work!
Unexpected though it may have been, there was another effect of Carrier’s invention, which became more appreciated than the reduced humidity. The ambient temperatures in the factory cooled. Cooler and cooler. Steadily. The temperature dropped by dozens of degrees, and the factory was able to print its quotas.
Word got around, and other factories and businesses called Carrier, begging him to build them these new-fangled contraptions that could cool the air like the breath of God. Business productivity increased due to the more comfortable conditions, and staff and customers began spreading the word, too. A revolution occurred, and one industry capitalized on it heavily.
Movie theatre owners realized that the darkness from the lights being put out for the film would reduce heat, and when coupled with air conditioners…. They made plans to become the coolest place in town, literally. People would come in, pay the ticket price of the movie and a cold beverage, all for the pleasure of a few hours in a cool dark room in a comfortable chair.
While it would be years before homeowners could regularly afford air conditioning, once it happened, there was no going back. Our lives have never been the same.
Willis Carrier’s invention changed the way we felt, and the way we lived our lives. No longer would people sit by open windows or on porches, hoping for a wayward breeze. This reduced the chance daily interactions between neighbors. Children spent more time indoors, in the cool, watching television. Factories could stay open longer, and the sheer increase in hours increased productivity; the added incentives of a comfortable temperature on the factory floor also improved quality and quantity of work completed. Our nation became a leader in the global economy, and it can all be traced to the invention of air conditioning.
Since the initial invention of this miracle machine in 1902, relatively little has changed in the design. Thermostats were added, which control the temperature of a given space, and can activate and turn off the cooling functions automatically, without human interaction. There are systems now that can be controlled remotely, from the palm of your hand; your cell phone can connect to your thermostat from anywhere in the world by connecting your smart thermostat to your home internet.
Since the beginning of time, there have been three great inventions which have changed the course of human history. Fire, the wheel, and air conditioning are the sole discoveries that have made us the dominant culture and species that we are today.
So, raise a cool glass of lemonade or cola to the air conditioner in your home, and say a “Thank you!” to human ingenuity and determination. And we won’t judge if your next son is names Willis; it would be fitting homage to the man who changed the future of the Humid South!