In 1902, only one year after Willis Haviland Carrier graduated from Cornell University with a Masters in Engineering, the first air (temperature and humidity) conditioning was in operation, making one Brooklyn printing plant owner very happy. Fluctuations in heat and humidity in his plant had caused the dimensions of the printing paper to keep altering slightly, enough to ensure a misalignment of the colored inks. The new air conditioning machine created a stable environment and aligned four-color printing became possible. All thanks to the new employee at the Buffalo Forge Company, who started on a salary of only $10.00 per week.
The ‘Apparatus for Treating Air’ (U.S. Pat# 808897) granted in 1906, was the first of several patents awarded to Willis Haviland Carrier. The recognized ‘father of air conditioning’ is Carrier, but the term ‘air conditioning’ actually originated with textile engineer, Stuart H. Cramer. Cramer used the phrase ‘air conditioning’ in a 1906 patent claim filed for a device that added water vapor to the air in textile plants – to condition the yarn.
In 1911, Willis Haviland Carrier disclosed his basic Rational Psychrometric Formulae to theAmerican Society of Mechanical Engineers. The formula still stands today as the basis in all fundamental calculations for the air conditioning industry. Carrier said he received his ‘flash of genius’ while waiting for a train. It was a foggy night and he was going over in his mind the problem of temperature and humidity control. By the time the train arrived, Carrier had an understanding of the relationship between temperature, humidity and dew point.
Industries flourished with the new ability to control the temperature and humidity levels during and after production. Film, tobacco, processed meats, medical capsules, textiles and other products acquired significant improvements in quality with air conditioning. Willis and six other engineers formed the Carrier Engineering Corporation in 1915 with a starting capital of $35,000 (1995 sales topped $5 billion). The company was dedicated to improving air conditioning technology.
In 1921, Willis Haviland Carrier patented the centrifugal refrigeration machine. The ‘centrifugal chiller’ was the first practical method of air conditioning large spaces. Previous refrigeration machines used reciprocating-compressors (piston-driven) to pump refrigerant (often toxic and flammable ammonia) throughout the system. Carrier designed a centrifugal-compressor similar to the centrifugal turning-blades of a water pump. The result was a safer and more efficient chiller.
Cooling for human comfort, rather than industrial need, began in 1924, noted by the three Carrier centrifugal chillers installed in the J.L. Hudson Department Store in Detroit, Michigan. Shoppers flocked to the ‘air conditioned’ store. The boom in human cooling spread from the department stores to the movie theaters, most notably the Rivoli theater in New York, whose summer film business skyrocketed when it heavily advertised the cool comfort. Demand increased for smaller units and the Carrier Company obliged.
In 1928, Willis Haviland Carrier developed the first residential ‘Weathermaker’, an air conditioner for private home use. The Great Depression and then WW2 slowed the non-industrial use of air conditioning. After the war, consumer sales started to grow again. The rest is history, cool and comfortable history.
Willis Haviland Carrier did not invent the very first system to cool an interior structure, however, his system was the first truly successful and safe one that started the science of modern air conditioning. You can read about the earlier history of air conditioning in the recommended reading material listed in the left sidebar.