As Millions of Americans Endure a Heat Wave, We Pay Homage to the Air Conditioner.
Americans across the country are languishing under a shroud of heat and humidity, with the worst of it hitting the Midwest and East Coast. No, the actual temperatures are nothing to raise the pulses of sun-hardened South Floridians, but we know what they’re going through. And we share their appreciation for one of the greatest inventions in history – the modern air conditioner.
But what about pre-modern air conditioners? What about the lengths people would go through – and still do in many parts of the world – to stay cool, without customized temperature settings and AC repair specialists at their immediate disposal?
Engineered Weather of the Ancients
One early attempt to control indoor temperature began in ancient Rome, where wealthy citizens dispersed cool water through the walls of their homes utilizing one of the highest achievements of the day: the Roman aqueduct system.
Later in the third century, emperor Elagabalus took it in a more extravagant direction by importing mountain snow with the use of donkey trains and building his own mountain of snow next to his villa. Many Romans, particularly the Stoic philosophers, derided these measures as indulgent, inefficient and a huge waste of resources.
In ancient China, hand fans were used for 3,000 years but it wasn’t until the second-century that a Chinese inventor named Ding Huan devised a rotary fan with seven 9ft long wheels powered by hand.
Of course, none of these measures proved satisfactory and for the centuries leading up to Western dominance the only advents were in architecture: designing houses with small windows that faced away from the sun, building homes underground and using wind towers that caught and circulated incoming breezes.
Modern Science to the Rescue
A Florida physician named John Gorrie used early compression technology to create ice in 1842. He was able to cool the air down and offer some relief to his patients in his Apalachicola hospital but his real goal was to use his ice-making machine to regulate the temperature of entire buildings. He even envisioned centralized air conditioning that would cool a whole city. Unfortunately, a lack of funding kept Dr. Gorrie from realizing his dream and it wasn’t until 1902 that the first modern electrical air conditioning unit was invented by the 25 year-old engineer William Carrier in New York.
Carrier’s efforts were more for humidity control in the paper plant where he worked than for human comfort. His first AC unit sent air through water-cooled coils. Later on, he invented a centrifugal chiller with a central compressor, reducing the unit’s size. It was unveiled to the public in a Times Square movie theatre in 1925 and since then, Americans have grown acclimated to indoor climate control, quickly casting aside memories of sweltering summers where relief was but a fantasy.
Air Conditioning Transforms America
Since Carrier’s invention, the landscape of America has undergone radical reshaping, sometimes slowly, as in the case of residential air conditioning, which would be called comfort air conditioning and sometimes quickly, as in the case for manufacturing, or what’s called process air conditioning.
In the subsequent years and particularly on the post World War Two era, Productivity of workers went up, food could be preserved for longer periods and shared public spaces like movie theatres, offices and hospitals were healthier to inhabit.
Natural sources of cooling no longer played a role in house construction. This allowed for wide pictorial windows and sliding glass doors in house designs. A huge population shift occurred to the once difficult summers in Sun Belt cities like Houston, Phoenix and Miami. Still, even as late as 1965 only 10 percent of homes had air conditioning, according to the Carrier Corporation. People would use atavistic methods of keeping cool by congregating to front porches on summer nights, sleeping on fire escapes and putting their underwear in the icebox.
A 2007 survey shows that 86 percent of the US population now has air conditioning. Those are a lot of units with a lot of things that go wrong. In Florida, where keeping cool isn’t a luxury but a necessity, AAA Able Air Conditioning and Appliance Co. has seen it all and fixed it! Our family owned company has been servicing the community for over 30 years. Contact AAA Able Air Conditioning and Appliance today for any of your air conditioning needs and make sure that you don’t have to resort to iced underwear to keep cool this summer!