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Tech Note: 110 Years of Air Conditioning

Woman in front of air conditioner (undated photo, Source: Time Magazine and Lambert Getty images)

Given the gripping strength of this summer’s heat wave across most of the U.S., I didn’t want this week to pass without sharing with you that we celebrated 110 years of air conditioning on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. When you live in Arizona and other states within the desert southwest, or the sweltering heat and humidity of the region east of the Mississippi, air conditioning is a necessity, if not a life-line. Places in the U.S. that were once considered inhabitable, at least during the summer, have become livable thanks to air conditioning.

Willis Haviland Carrier, a young engineer has been credited with inventing modern air conditioning. In 1902, he developed an air conditioning system for Sackett & Wilhelms Lithography and Printing Company, Brooklyn, New York, to address quality problems on their presses that came from too much humidity in the air. Carrier experimented with the laws of humidity to solve an application problem at the printing plant. Borrowing from the concepts of mechanical refrigeration established in earlier years, Carrier’s system sent air through coils filled with cold water, cooling the air while at the same time removing moisture to control room humidity.

On July 17, 1902, Willis Carrier, a research engineer at the Buffalo Forge Company, finalized the design to solve the humidity problem plaguing the plant. With Carrier’s design came the birth of modern air conditioning – an invention so novel, its impact would reach far beyond the printing industry, and beyond the shores of this country. [Ref 1]

Willis Haviland Carrier was an American engineer and inventor, and is known as the man who invented modern air conditioning. (Source: Carrier Company)

Interestingly, Carrier’s invention was called the “Apparatus for Treating Air”. Chilled coils were used in the machine to cool air and lower humidity.  Carrier became one of the first entrepreneurs to take his business global, as modern air conditioning went on to enable industries around the world. [Ref 2] Whether it was controlling the indoor environment to facilitate printing, improving the manufacture of candy and textiles, or aiding progress in health care, air conditioning has been credited with enabling advancements in life and business. The invention even revolutionized the movie industry by transforming theaters into enjoyable places to escape the summer heat.

Air conditioning, or AC as it is often called, has also been credited with the survival of institutions and industries: the heat-sensitive world of computer networks; hospitals, the U.S. federal government, which often had to shut down in swampy Washington, D.C.; and Las Vegas. According to a Time Magazine article [Ref 3], even the cool bliss of AC has raised the temperature of some critics. Environmentalists who are concerned about global warming have long called for cutting back on AC use.

The innovation, and the company that was built around it, would enable countless industries, improve lives and forever change our world – an impact made possible by a man who dared to dream, and to dream big.

While surfing the web, I discovered there is a FaceBook page, “Put the guy who invented air conditioning on Mount Rushmore!”  Obviously, the objective is just what it says – to honor Willis Carrier by carving his face into Mount Rushmore. If you are one who wants to extol the virtues of AC, you can add your name to the list.

In the meantime, stay cool!


  1. History of Carrier, www.carrier.com
  2. The History of Air Conditioning, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, http://www.asme.org/kb/news—articles/articles/technology-and-society/global-cooling–the-history-of-air-conditioning
  3. Time Magazine, Brief History: Air Conditioning, Katy Steinmetx, July 12, 2010

About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


3 thoughts on “Tech Note: 110 Years of Air Conditioning

  1. Ensuring proper maintenance should be enforced especially for centralized air conditioning system for more energy efficiency and long life of the unit.


    Posted by Air Conditioning | March 11, 2013, 10:17 pm
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