The History of Air Conditioning

The air conditioner shows no sign of stopping 115 years after Willis Carrier invented the first recognisable air compressing and cooling machine used to keep publishers’ paper and ink legible. Here’s the long and illustrious history of the humble air conditioner.


Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley, a Cambridge University Professor, discover that evaporation of volatile liquids like alcohol (which evaporates faster than water) can cool an object and is enough to freeze water.


Michael Faraday, the inventor famous for developing the Faraday cage, discovers the same phenomena in England when he compresses ammonia and thereby liquefies it.


Dr John Gorrie invents an ice-making machine that compresses buckets of ice and blows air across them, thereby cooling the hospital where he works. In 1851 Gorrie patents the idea, but he lacks financial backing and his dream of a machine to cool buildings mechanically evaporates.


In an interesting quirk of history, US President James Garfield survives an assassination attempt but is badly wounded. Naval engineers construct a makeshift cooling machine to aid the president’s recovery. A large box is filled with water soaked rags and a fan is used to blow hot air overhead, which in turn keeps cool air closer to the bed where Garfield lies. The engineers note that the room temperature drops by 20 degrees fahrenheit. Unfortunately, the device uses half a million pounds of ice in the two months that it is used and President Garfield dies despite his temperate lodgings.


Willis Carrier invents the officious sounding Apparatus for Treating Air for the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Co. The Brooklyn company are delighted with the machine that blows air over cold coils to control humidity and room temperature. They soon notice a quick drop in misaligned ink and wrinkled, dry paper stock. Carrier receives interest from other publishers and makes the historic decision to form the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America. This is the first time anyone refers to the technology as ‘air conditioning’ – which we use to this day.


Charles Gates installs the first ever home air conditioning system at his mansion in Minneapolis. The unit is 7 feet tall by 6 feet wide and 20 feet long. Nobody knows whether this unit was ever used or even worked, because Gates never moved into the property.


The first window ledge air conditioner is invented by H.H. Shultz and J.Q. Sherman. A year later the units are put on general sale for $10,000 to $50,000, depending on the model. This is equivalent to $120,000 to $600,000 in 2017.


The USA builds its first ‘summer peaking’ plant to provide power for the extra load on the grid during summer. This is directly attributable to the rise in air conditioning across the country.


The post WWII economic boom causes residential air conditioning units to exceed 1 million units sold across the USA.


R-12, better known as Freon-12, or simply Freon, becomes the main refrigerant used in all makes and models of air conditioning.


Freon is directly linked to the thinning of the ozone layer and is subsequently banned in several countries. Automotive manufacturers are ordered to switch to the R134a refrigerant before 1996. Honeywell and Carrier continue to develop coolants that are environmentally friendly.


history of air conditioning


FM Mechanical Ltd provide air conditioning installation, repairs and maintenance services throughout the South Yorkshire region, including Barnsley, Sheffield and Rotherham. For over 30 years, our certified technicians have prided themselves on a quick, comprehensive and cost-effective service. To find out more about any of our services, get in touch with our friendly team today.