History of the Air Conditioner

As we settle into the some of the hottest days of the year, it’s easy to take air conditioning for granted. While the treated air makes living in Southern California a breeze, the air conditioner itself is a relatively new invention; only roughly 118 years old. For millennia, humans have tried different methods to keep cool, but nothing beats the air conditioners we have today. Since we’re delving into some history, today we’re sharing the history of the air conditioner, from early cooling methods to the central AC we know and love today.

Air Conditioning was Incredibly Inefficient

The first noted attempt to cool ambient, indoor temperature took place in ancient Rome. The ancient Romans put in place incredible aqueduct systems to transport water from reservoirs to drinking wells. Wealthy Romans took advantage of the aqueducts to pump cool water through the walls of their homes, which kind of cooled the air. In another move to try and keep cool, a Roman emperor moved an entire mountain of snow to his summer villa. Surprise, this did not work. After these first few noted attempts, most cultures held off on technology. Choosing instead to use hand fans. It wasn’t until 180 AD that the first rotary fan was built. Yes, the same type of fan that’s in your AC condenser today! During the Han Dynasty, a craftsman named Ding Huan invented the rotary fan. This fan had to be operated by a person, but it could effectively cool a large room. For the rest of the world, everyone stuck with hand fans until manufactured ice became a normal convenience.

Then Came the Water and Ice

In 1902, an engineer William Carrier was working for the Buffalo Forge Company when he was tasked with solving a problem. During the New York City summers, humidity would creep up so high that it was damaging printed materials. In an effort to offset the humidity, Carrier “used an industrial fan to blow air over steam coils filled with cold water; the excess humidity would then condense on the coils and produce cooled air,” according to Smithsonian Magazine. Carrier went on to patent his original design and continue to work on this new technology.

Air cooling technology wasn’t introduced on a mass scale until 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair. The summers in St. Louis are brutal, tripe digit temperatures with 100% humidity. To combat this, newly minted electric motors powered the compressor and blower system and ammonia was used as the refrigerant. Though cooling systems had been installed in places like the New York Stock Exchange, this was the first time the general population was ever exposed to artificially cooled air.

AC Becomes Accessible

Throughout the 1900s and into the 1920s, Carrier kept working on his cooled air technology. Though public places were embracing artificially cooler air, Carrier knew he could make it more efficient. During the early 1920s, movie theatres could draw a “summer blockbuster” crowd by filling underground pools with ice and using huge rotary fans to distribute that cool air throughout the building—I don’t think we need to say it, but this method was very inefficient and couldn’t cool the entire theatre. In 1922, Carrier debuted his centrifugal chiller—which was a central compressor that could make cooling systems smaller and much more effective.

Though this technology was being introduced at a large scale, it wouldn’t be until the 1950s and 1960s that it became accessible for most Americans. After WWII, companies were able to mass produce smaller AC units that could go in individual homes. As demand grew, so did production and advancements in technology. Today, a majority of Americans have some sort of air conditioning in their home. Whether it’s a window unit, or central AC, what was once a luxury is now a necessity.

What Would Our World Look Like Without AC?

Air Conditioning changed the landscape of America. Without it, our country would look incredibly different. First, when silver screens first dotted urban landscapes, they were a respite for people; a place to get away from their troubles, and soon it became a place to escape summer. As we mentioned above, movie theaters were the first public businesses to embrace air conditioning. Without air conditioning, there wouldn’t be a lot of life in the South. AC allowed states like Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Florida to accommodate business and human life. Air conditioners also changed our economy. Many times, schools and jobs would have a summer break because it was simply too hot to sit inside and be productive. Now, we can work and thrive inside thanks to artificially cooled air.

Need a New AC Unit? Call Service Champions

Do you think your AC unit could be included in the history of the air conditioner? It’s time to call Service Champions. When it comes to installations and new units, our installers are expertly trained and ready to handle any challenge. Service Champions is the only Diamond Certified HVAC provider in Southern California. We proudly serve parts of Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside counties. To schedule your appointment, reach out to our amazing call center representatives or click here to book online.