Who invented air conditioning? Air conditioning was attempted by ancient Egyptians for the first time.
Floor mats would be soaked in water and then hung outside. The hot dry air entering the room would collide with the wet mats, cooling the air slightly and adding moisture to the otherwise arid Egyptian climate. The cooling sensation provided by this air was not as long-lasting but did feel refreshing.
Soon after the Egyptians invented their doorway mats to battle the heat, the Romans devised a system of circulating fresh water through indoor pipes to combat overheating, a method that dramatically reduced the temperature inside stuffy villas.
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Modern Air Conditioning
Franklin, an American statesman and inventor, started experimenting with the refrigerating properties of certain liquids in 1758, along with John Hadley, a Cambridge University professor.
According to Franklin’s previous research, the refrigerant effects of a liquid are related to its evaporation rate. Hadley and he assessed this finding by cooling down a mercury thermometer to 25 degrees below freezing using ether and a bellows. This sparked an interest in Franklin about the possibility of feeling extremely cold even when it’s 50 degrees outside.
Observations such as these by Franklin were a sign of things to come. In 1820, Michael Faraday, a British inventor who was also interested in refrigeration, discovered he could cool an inner laboratory’s air by compressing and liquidizing ammonia.
Florida’s Dr. John Gorrie came up with the idea of cooling cities during the 1840s to avoid diseases like malaria and make the patients more comfortable. But to achieve his idea, ice had to be shipped from frozen lakes and streams in the north to Florida.
Gorrie experimented with air conditioning (artificial cooling) to avoid this logistical challenge. In 1851, he was granted a patent for it for a machine that used a horse, wind, water, or steam to create ice. The invention Gorrie developed laid the foundation for modern air conditioner and refrigeration regardless of his failure to bring it to market due to financial constraints.
After this, a new era of inventions of the modern air conditioner began with the arrival of electricity, and Willis H. Carrier was a pioneer.
Role of Carrier in the Invention of AC
Originally from New York, Willis Carrier was the chief engineer of Buffalo Forge Company. During this time Sackett-Williams Lithographing & Publishing Company’s printing plant was plagued by a severe humidity problem. He had to find a way to prevent moisture from damaging magazine pages, which helped provide a basis for the invention of the conditioners we enjoy today.
His air conditioning system was the first to receive a patent. He created a system that regulated humidity, temperature, airflow, and ventilation.
This device was a spray designed to dehumidify and humidify rooms by heating water and cooling it respectively. In spite of the system’s success, he wanted to automate it and make it better.
His research demonstrated that he could maintain a constant relative humidity and a constant dew-point depression. In 1914, he obtained a patent for an automatic control system he had developed using this discovery. However, before this patent, he wrote a research paper describing the concepts of dew-point temperature, relative, and absolute humidity which he used together. Engineers later used this paper to develop the modern air conditioning systems that we use today.
As of late 1914, Buffalo Forge Company was operating as a full-scale manufacturer but Carrier, along with six other engineers, resigned from the company to start his own engineering corporation. Carrier Air Conditioning Company was valued at 18.6 billion dollars in 2020!
The First Air Conditioner
Stuart Cramer coined the phrase air conditioning in 1906. There were quite a few experiments revolving around the modern air conditioning system happening, but only a few worked.
Then in 1904, the public experienced what artificial cooling felt like. Several engineers utilized mechanical refrigeration to circulate about 35,000 cubic feet of cold air every minute throughout the Missouri State Building during St. Louis World’s Fair. This was such a positive experience that larger buildings and halls including theaters started forcing cool air through the floor vents. However, while this kept the floor area nice and cool, it did not make a difference for people sitting on higher levels.
Cooling Comes Home
The above-mentioned cooling technology worked, but it was not home-friendly.
Frigidaire introduced in 1929 a split-system room cooler that was small enough for home use and shaped like a radio cabinet utilizing refrigeration technology. However, these units were quite expensive and heavy. This design was improved by Frank Faust, who developed a self-contained room cooler, and General Electric produced 32 similar prototypes between 1930 and 1931. The first semi-portable air conditioning unit was created by Chrysler Motors in 1935.
The same year, General Motors scientists Thomas Midgley, Albert Henne, and Robert McNary synthesized CFC refrigerants, becoming the first non-flammable refrigerants, which greatly improved air conditioner safety. The chemicals were eventually linked to ozone depletion decades later when the Montreal Protocol expired in the 1990s and were eventually phased out by governments around the world. Recently, scientists and engineers have been working on developing technology that will be less harmful to the environment.
In 1890, H.H Schultz and J.Q Sherman patented an air conditioner that could be placed on a window ledge, allowing home cooling systems to become smaller. They were first offered in 1932, but they were not widely adopted due to their high price.
Henry Galson identified this issue and developed cheaper versions of the same product.
Approximately 43,000 of these systems were sold by 1947, making it possible for homeowners to have air conditioning without having to spend astronomical amounts of money on upgrades.
The late 1960s witnessed the widespread installation of central air conditioning in new homes, and the adoption of window air conditioners became more affordable than ever. Interestingly, the invention and adaptation of air conditioners also resulted in the increase in population in the hottest American states like Arizona.
Air Conditioning and Energy Crisis
In the past, the US-led the world in electricity consumption for air conditioning but with the drastic climate changes, other countries are catching up too. It is predicted that China will become the world leader in air conditioning electricity soon, and the rest of Asia will not be far behind either.
According to the IEA, by 2050, China, India, and Indonesia will account for half of all air conditioning households in the world.
The rapid expansion of air conditioning worldwide has already contributed to energy shortages during the summer months.
There have been instances where all residential power has been shut off in India for up to 16 hours a day due to a 17-gigawatt shortfall. When you consider that Mumbai consumes 40% of its energy for air conditioning, you can easily see how this is related to the air conditioning industry.
Several reports estimate that by 2050 space cooling will consume more than three times the amount of electricity it does at present if the current trend continues. For the world to power those extra air conditioners, it would take more electricity than the United States, Europe, and Japan combined to produce today.
We need to increase energy efficiency in order to ensure that our world will have enough energy in the future.
Increasing the energy efficiency of new air conditioners could significantly decrease the amount of electricity required to meet the new cooling demand.
In current times, even new air conditioners may have a wide range of efficiency ratings, and the average new AC installed in the EU or Japan has a 25% better efficiency rating than its counterparts in the U.S. and China.
Now you know who invented the first modern air conditioner – Willis Carrier!
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