The history of the heating side of HVAC is pretty clear, as combustion-based heating dates back to caves and campfires. What about cooling, especially modern AC like we provide at Plumbing & Cooling Nerds?
While cooling was originally provided by ice kept until summer in ice houses, cool air was later produced by machinery invented by Willis Haviland Carrier. Legend has it that he was on a train platform in Pittsburg, staring into the fog, when a way of controlling humidity came to mind. That was the moment when AC was invented, though plenty of refinement followed. He was an engineering graduate of Cornell University, class of 1901, and had just started work at the Buffalo Forge Company.
By 1915 he had founded Carrier Engineering Corporation and at the end of the 20th century, he was named by Time magazine as one of the century’s 100 most influential people for his aircon invention and many related creations.
Early Inventors Cooled Diverse Environments
But wait – two other inventors were actively pursuing the problem of cooling indoor spaces, Alfred Wolff and John Gorrie. Gorrie was a physician in Florida, who developed a way to cool spaces where heat-sensitive patients were convalescing. He used horse-drawn compressors and ammonia, running through pipes, to conduct heat outside in a way similar to how our modern central AC systems work. He received the first patent for a mechanical refrigerating machine in 1851.
Alfred Wolff was working in New York, and provided an early 19th century cooling system for the bullpen of the New York Stock Exchange. He also created a system for cooling Carnegie Hall, and in another medical application, one for Cornell Medical College. This last system helped keep medical cadavers used by students cool, with very beneficial results.
Carrier Had the Key to Modern AC Principles
Who invented the air conditioner we know today? The principle behind Carrier’s humidity control system provided the basis for modern air conditioning. Other systems of cooling large spaces didn’t address humidity, resulting in cool but not particularly comfortable environments. The term “air conditioning” references the system’s ability to create cool, drier air, making it more useful – and marketable. Another invention of his played a key role in getting AC into position in about 87% of U.S. homes, the centrifugal compressor. This helped reduce the size and cost of AC systems, so they could work in homes, not just hospitals and concert halls.
Why the Delay in Adopting AC Comfort?
It took until the 1940s for air conditioning to become widespread. There are a variety of opinions as to why, but one that continues in Europe prevailed back then, the concern that artificially cool air might not be as healthy as summer heat. In areas of the U.S. with higher summer temperatures, and now as Europe experiences warmer summers, cooling along with air cleaning technologies began to catch on. Now, homeowners can install air purification, humidity management, and other air quality add-ons for their HVAC system, going beyond their AC’s natural drying effect. This has even led to better air quality indoors than outside!
Economic Effects of Air Conditioning Technology
While AC systems were becoming popular in homes through the 1920s and 1930s, refrigeration systems using similar principles were helping to store and transport goods, especially food. Momentum was building, and engineers were working on more advanced implementations of air conditioning. One approach was dividing between split, packaged, and other formats for industrial use. Standard home systems use the split configuration, with the system divided between indoor and outdoor components. Packaged and other larger systems cool office buildings, restaurants, shopping malls, and more.
Split AC for Anywhere
In addition to central air for homes and larger systems for commercial use, since the 1970s a smaller version of the “split” configuration has been making a difference around the world. The “mini-split” system uses a central air-style compressor unit outside, and feeds cooling lines directly to spaces in need of comfort. This helps when ductwork isn’t practical or desirable, and at Plumbing & Cooling Nerds we use it as an installed alternative to temporary window or portable AC. If you look at pictures of dense Asian apartment blocks, you’ll see dozens of mini-split systems installed. They’re used in many applications throughout the U.S., providing even more flexible comfort.
The Future of Air Conditioning
In the 21st century, modern air conditioning is becoming increasingly efficient using technologies like variable speed compressors. A century after the original aircon invention by Carrier, visionaries are also talking about personalized cooling, a kind of “space suit” technology where people bring the cooling with them. While compressor-based cooling is still dominant, the future may hold other kinds of cooling tech.
Of course, compressors are also at the heart of the heat pumps we install at Plumbing & Cooling Nerds. These combine AC with heating by allowing the reversal of the system’s flow to bring heat indoors, instead of outside. Managing comfort in an affordable, efficient way is a big part of our future, with an amazing number of ways Carrier’s inventions have been put to use!
Your Local HVAC Experts
While the HVAC industry has witnessed groundbreaking innovations in the last few decades, significant progress has been made in enhancing energy efficiency. HVAC evolution presents consumers with an extensive array of choices, ranging from geothermal and hybrid heating to zoned systems, providing diverse options for optimizing comfort and sustainability.
Exploring the history of HVAC allows us to appreciate the transformative impact of Carrier’s ingenious invention. At Plumbing & Cooling Nerds, we stand at the forefront of this industry’s progress, leveraging our expertise to offer state-of-the-art heating and cooling solutions. Whether it’s optimizing energy efficiency, enhancing air quality, or ensuring year-round comfort, we are dedicated to providing top-notch services that reflect the legacy of innovation set forth by pioneers like Carrier.
Your journey to a seamlessly controlled and comfortable environment begins with Plumbing & Cooling Nerds.