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A Brief History of Air Conditioning Technology

Air conditioning is a comforting and productive convenience of modern society and a notable scientific achievement. The ability of air conditioning to let us enjoy indoor activities and be more productive in the workplace has become easy to take for granted. But, air conditioning has a long history of fascinating inventors and scientists and is, in many ways, still an evolving technology.

Willis Haviland Carrier gets credit for developing the first cooling machine but the roots of the science preceded the first air-cooling device. In fact, in 1758, Benjamin Franklin and Cambridge University professor John Hadley discovered that the evaporation of alcohol and other volatile liquids which evaporated faster than water could cool an object.

In 1820, Michael Faraday confirmed the discovery while teaching in London. In his process, Faraday compressed and liquefied ammonia.

In the 1830s a Florida doctor, Dr. John Gorrie, built an ice-making machine that used compression to make buckets of ice. The machine had a blower that would blow air over the cold ice. In 1851, Dr. Gorrie registered a legal patent for his process. However, the doctor was unable to raise necessary funding to develop and manufacture equipment based on his model.

After the assassination of President James Garfield on July 2, 1881, naval engineers developed a makeshift cooling unit to store the President's body comfortably. The water-soaked cloth was filled with water and featured a fan that blew hot air up and kept the air closer to the surface cooler.

This creative device successfully lowered room temperature to as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit - quite an accomplishment. The problem was that Garfield's water soaked blanket and accompanying cooling process devoured about 500,000 pounds of ice in two months.

20th Century

In 1902, Willis Carrier burst onto the air conditioning scene in a big way. Carrier invented the Apparatus for Treating Air to be used by the Sackett Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company of Brooklyn, New York.

The Apparatus blew cold air over a series of cold coils. The machine cooled the air and lowered the humidity in the control room. The Lithograph company benefited because all their paper did not wrinkle and the ink on pages remained aligned properly.

Carrier soon found that the demand for his cooling machine was increasing daily. He quickly founded the Carrier Air Conditioning Company, an entity that still survives today and is synonymous with quality air-conditioning.

Stuart Cramer arrived on the scene in 1906. Cramer was a textile mill engineer from North Carolina. Cramer invented a ventilating device that added water vapour to the air of his textile plants. The added humidity made the yarn easier to spin and less likely to break. Cramer was an important contributor to the development of air conditioning as we know it today.

In 1931, inventors HH. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman built the first individual room air conditioner. The unit rested on a window ledge or sill and resembled the units that are still used in apartments today. Large models of these units were only affordable to the wealthiest class as units ranged from £6,000 to £12,000. However, an industry was born.

The Packard Motor Company released the world's first air conditioned auto. The controls on the dashboard came much later but a car was manufactured that offered air conditioning.

Air conditioning continued to grow in popularity. As models became more affordable, the demand often outweighed supply. In 1942, the US built its first Summer Peaking power plant. The plant was needed to meet the electric demand for the Summer season a when demand for air conditioning was stressing many eastern and southern municipal energy sources.

In 1947, British scholar, S.F. Markham, said; "The greatest contribution to civilisation in this century may well be air conditioning - and America leads the way." Apparently, consumers agreed. During the economic boom of the post-War 1950's, demand for air conditioning units soared. More than 1 million units were sold in 1953 alone. Suddenly, every American home had to have at least one air-conditioning unit as the cooling system became a status symbol of sorts.

By the 1970s, central air conditioning was becoming a standard for office and new residential construction. The sale of individual air conditioning units began to slow. The new systems drew air over coils and blasted the cool air through the home's ventilation system. Freon 12 was used as the cooling agent.

In 1994, Freon was banned in many countries because of its connection to the deteriorating ozone layer. By 1996, auto manufacturers and central systems converted to less environmentally damaging agents R1343a. Honeywell and Carrier soon developed their proprietary agents that were significantly less harmful.

As far as air conditioning has come since Benjamin Franklin's initial queries into the science, it is sure to advance further in the future.

There will undoubtedly be further enhancements in air conditioning technology in the future, so watch this space!

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