When I was growing up in the northeast, my family didn’t have mechanical air conditioning. Our air conditioning was opening the windows. Oh, sure, there were occasional straight-from-Hades days, but for the most part, temperatures weren’t horrible. Nights usually cooled down into the 60s. I used to love summer.
It’s been in the middle to high 90s here in the Richmond, Virginia area for a while. As I’m writing this, it’s 99 degrees, and adding the oppressive humidity around central Virginia, it feels much worse. I never liked the summers down here, and they seem to be getting hotter with each passing year. All this raging heat made me wonder when air conditioning appeared on the scene.
Way back in ancient China, in the second century, Ding Huane designed a manually powered rotary fan. The pursuit of keeping the heated summer air outside continued through the centuries. Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley, a Cambridge University professor, in 1758, experimented with evaporation to cool things off. Michael Farraday discovered the evaporation thing when he compressed and liquefied ammonia in 1820 in England. Skipping over some decades and achievements, we come to Willis Carrier. He invented the first modern air conditioner. It was 1902.
Carrier’s invention sent air over coils filled with water, cooling the air and removing humidity. His method was first used in a printing company and then in other factories. He also founded the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America.
The cooling trend continued—yielding window units in the 30s to central air in the 70s. The industry is now working toward being more eco-friendly.
So, when, you may ask, did air conditioning go mobile? In 1939, the Packard was the first car equipped to keep its passengers comfortable when it was quite toasty outside.
Read more, in these articles, about the technology of cooling that helped me write this edition of The Write Drive:
“Global Cooling: the History of Air Conditioning”
“The Cool History of the Air Conditioner”
Don’t forget to wear your face masks in public and social distance.