When the temperatures start to soar in the summer, most of us reach for the controls of the air conditioner. These days, an AC seems like a necessity, given how hot and muggy the summers can get. Most places have some air conditioning system, even if that consists of a window unit.
Many homes, especially newer ones, have convenient central air conditioning systems. Modern thermostats can easily keep the temperature inside at a set degree year-round. Central AC ensures that the entire house can stay cool instead of just one or two rooms. Given our modern technology and convenient amenities, it’s a little hard to imagine how life was before central AC. People had to deal with a lot, and many inventors worked hard to help people stay comfortable. This overview will go into how central air conditioning was invented. It may give you a better appreciation for our modern appliances.
An Early Attempt
Summer heat isn’t anything new. Generations upon generations of people have had to deal with extreme temperatures. They adapted their clothing, spent time in or near the water, and used natural ventilation to get a break from the heat. In the 1840s, Dr. John Gorrie of Florida focused on giving patients respite from feverish temperatures. He felt that this would help them recover from various illnesses.
One of the more basic ways of cooling places at the time was to use ice shipped from places further north to cool hospital rooms. Dr. Gorrie improved upon that premise and created a device that he called an ice machine. This machine consisted of a small engine and a compressor that could make ice and cool the air. He patented his creation in 1851, but unfortunately, circumstances did not work in his favor, and the invention never took off.
Willis Carrier Steps In
The public may not have been ready for an artificial ice machine in the 19th century, but things certainly changed during the 20th century. Willis Carrier, an experimental engineer, is known as the inventor of the first modern air conditioner. He was only in his twenties when he started in the industry around the turn of the century. His technology became popular very quickly, and soon, more people started using air conditioners. We must thank him for our central AC systems that make it so easy to control our indoor air temperature.
Let’s step back in time to review Carrier’s work in greater detail. In the early 1900s, Carrier was tasked with an important job by his employer, the Buffalo Forge Company. A printing company in Brooklyn had trouble creating its products during the intense summer heat. The humidity played a huge factor and caused the paper to swell and the prints to become blurry. This affected their profit margin, so they approached a young professional for assistance.
Carrier designed a system that used an industrial fan to bring air over coils. When the humidity from the air went over the coils, moisture would condense on them. As a result, the paper, ink, and other materials were not as significantly affected by humidity. As a bonus, the workers in the factory were much more comfortable. This may have led them to work more productively, too. As many of us know, it can be hard to concentrate when the environment is hot and sticky.
Other businesses started to take note. Many things, from leather to baked goods, can be affected by heat and humidity, so it makes sense that business leaders would be intrigued by Carrier’s work.
With a few other engineers, Carrier went on to found his own company called Carrier Engineering Corporation. His team continued to research, experiment, and refine ideas regarding cooling. They produced the Centrifugal Refrigeration Compressor in the early 1920s. Many consider this compressor to be the precursor to modern central AC. It could cool the air because it compressed refrigerant gas using centrifugal force.
Many locations, including department stores and movie theaters, had these compressors installed in their commercial spaces. As you can imagine, this type of air conditioning significantly changed how pleasant things were in the summer. Instead of sweating for a few hours in a theater, sitting next to other people who were also sweltering, people could relax and enjoy the refreshing air inside. Simply going into a department store to shop became a pleasure.
Other Companies’ Contributions
The industry continued to evolve, and many people focused their attention on making smaller and more suitable air conditioners for residential use. The Frigidaire company produced a split-system room cooler in 1929. While it could be used in a home, it was still relatively large and expensive. Plus, it needed to be paired with a separate condensing unit.
A team from General Electric developed a self-contained air conditioner a few years later. Then, a competing team from General Motors started working with synthesized chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) coolants, which could act as refrigerants. Importantly, they were non-flammable, and at the time, scientists weren’t aware that CFCs would lead to ozone depletion. Hydrofluorocarbons were later used, but they were also soon found to be harmful to the environment.
Inventors Schultz and Sherman got into the business, developing an air conditioner that could be situated on a window ledge. While it was a great idea, these units were too expensive for many people. The public was waiting for something affordable and practical.
Engineer Henry Galson was more successful. He sold tens of thousands of window air conditioners in the 1940s. Over the next few decades, window air conditioners grew in popularity, and so did central air conditioners.
Today, we have highly efficient central air conditioning systems. The efficiency of a unit is measured by its SEER rating. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and in many places, the minimum rating that a new AC can have is 14. This is a significant improvement compared to older units that are still around today, which may have SEER ratings of 8 or 9. Most units that were no longer operational were even less efficient.
A Local Source of Support
If you want to learn more about central air conditioning systems and your options for them in Louisville or the surrounding communities, our team at Absolute Services can help you. We got our start as a garage door company in 2008. We were successful in that venture and enjoyed assisting people in improving or maintaining their homes. After that, we decided to branch out into the plumbing and HVAC fields. We can install a unit, fixture, or appliance for you, and we’re available to provide tune-ups and address anything that needs repair.
Regarding plumbing, we can also perform drain cleaning services so that you won’t have to worry about clogs. In addition, we employ electricians who can take care of your electrical issues, whether that involves a big project or a smaller task. Plus, we still work with garage doors and are available for installations, repairs, or maintenance. Call us at Absolute Services today to discuss how we can serve you!