THE NOT-SO-LONG HISTORY OF AIR CONDITIONING IN AMERICA

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Air conditioning is the best! Sure, central heat is pretty great, too, especially in Olathe where winters can get more than a little on the chilly side. But no matter how cold it gets, there are lots of ways to keep warm. You can pile on blankets, snuggle up close with that special someone, and throw another log on the fire. Staying cool during a heat wave, on the other hand, takes a little more ingenuity, unless you have air conditioning!

Believe it or not, though, air conditioning as a fixture in American homes is a relatively new development. In 1965, only 10% of homes in the United States had air conditioning. Movie theaters used to advertise air conditioning as a feature to draw in customers for the summer movie season.

If you enjoy that blast of cool air whenever you open the door to your home on a hot and muggy summer day in Kansas City, the person you’ll want to thank is Willis Haviland Carrier, who invented the first modern air conditioner in 1902. Before that, though, people still found ways to keep cool.

HOW YOUR ANCESTORS KEPT IT COOL

Since prehistoric times, people have found ways to beat the heat. It’s one of the reasons cavemen lived in caves, after all. The ancient Egyptians hung wet reeds in their windows so that the breeze would pass through and cool off the air, while handheld fans have been in use since at least the 2nd Century BCE.

Of course, snow and ice were used for cooling purposes, too, but they were only available when the weather was already cold. Hence, storing ice became an important part of life in places where it wasn’t available all year round, and ice was often harvested in the winter and stored in outdoor “ice houses,” where it was packed with insulation to help keep it frozen throughout the summer. The earliest refrigerators or “iceboxes” worked on a similar principle.

HOW ELECTRICITY SAVED US FROM THE HEAT

Mechanical fans have been around since at least 747 CE, when a Chinese inventor during the Tang Dynasty introduced rotary fans powered by water. (Previous rotary fans, dating back as far as the 2nd Century CE, had to be turned by hand.) The big break came with the “discovery” of electricity. The first electric fan was invented by Schuyler Skaats Wheeler in New Orleans in 1882. Within a few years, Philip Diehl had patented the first electric ceiling fan, which he invented by connecting a fan to a sewing machine motor.

Prior to the advent of air conditioning, electric fans were the most popular way to keep a house cool in the summer months, and even today people use ceiling fans and box fans throughout their homes to circulate air and save on utility costs.

WILLIS CARRIER’S AIR-CONDITIONING INVENTION

In 1902, Willis Carrier was working for the Sackett-Wilhems Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn. He invented the first modern air conditioner not to keep people cool, but to keep paper from being damaged by the humidity. However, once he had figured out the connection between heat, humidity, dew point, and pressure, it wasn’t long before he filed a patent on the first air conditioner.

By 1922, he had added a centrifugal chiller, which helped to reduce the size of the earliest air conditioners, opening them up to public consumption. This new, smaller air conditioner debuted at the Rivoli Theater in Times Square on Memorial Day weekend in 1925, and the age of summer blockbusters and air-conditioned movie palaces was born.

The air conditioners which cool our homes today may be smaller than the ones invented by Willis Carrier in 1902, but the principles employed aren’t that different. The next time you turn down the thermostat, think about what it was like before a 25-year-old engineer created a machine to help keep books from getting damaged by humidity. 

AMAZING FACTS ABOUT AIR CONDITIONING

Because blocks of ice had previously been used to keep things cool, the first commercially available air conditioners were measured in “ice power,” a listing of how many blocks of ice it would take to achieve a similar effect.

Half a century before Willis Carrier invented the modern air conditioner, Dr. John Gorrie of Florida patented the first machine for making ice. Making ice hadn’t actually been his original intent, however. He had created a system that pulled in air, compressed it, and ran it through pipes to cool off patients suffering from malaria. That the machine had the unforeseen side-effect of producing ice was a profitable bonus for the good doctor.

While the modern air conditioner was developed in 1902, it didn’t see its big public debut until the 1939 World’s Fair, where Willis Carrier demonstrated his invention to 65,000 people at the Carrier Igloo of Tomorrow expo.

These days, we use air conditioners in our homes, in our businesses, and even in our cars. But cars are a relatively late addition to that list. In fact, the 1953 Chrysler Imperial was among the first cars to offer air conditioning as an option off the assembly line. 

YOUR AIR CONDITIONER AT HOME

While only about 10% of American homes had air-conditioners in 1965, today that number is closer to 80%. Some homes still have the smaller window units that become popular in the ’50s and ’60s, but today most homes are built with central heating and cooling systems, including air conditioners.

The principles behind the modern air conditioner may not have changed too much since Willis Carrier invented the first one way back in 1902, but the technology that powers them has come a long way. Today’s air conditioners are more powerful, more precise, and more energy efficient than ever before. They can cool your home to your desired temperature and keep it there with a minimum expenditure of energy. And many homes today even employ smart thermostats that can learn your family’s habits and patterns and adjust cooling schedules to be even more efficient. 

COOL IT WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM YOUR FRIENDS

You rely on your air conditioner to keep you, your family, your business, and even your car cool during the hot summer months here in Kansas City, where temperatures can easily reach over 100 degrees. It only makes sense to keep your air conditioner reliable by having it serviced regularly. No one wants to swelter in the Kansas heat the way our ancestors had to before the invention of air conditioning, so keep your Olathe air conditioner in good shape with a little help from the experts at Davenport Service Company.

At Davenport, we’ve been helping to keep Olathe heating and cooling systems running for more than thirty years, through the worst weather that the Kansas City area can throw our way. And we’re here to help you with air-conditioner service, repair, and replacement. Just give us a call at 913-441-2222 today and let us help you keep cool all summer long!

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