History of Air Conditioning
History of Air Conditioning
Written by Malcolm Jones Jr.

The idea of air conditioning started before a machine was created to produce the cooling effect desired. The first attempt at building an air conditioner was made by Dr. John Gorrie (1803-1855), an American physician, in Apalachicola, Florida. During his practice there in the 1830s, Dr. Gorrie creating an ice-making machine that essentially blew air over a bucket of ice for cooling hospital rooms of patients suffering from malaria and yellow fever.

In 1881, when President James Garfield was dying, naval engineers constructed a box-like structure containing cloths saturated with melted ice water, where a fan blew hot air overhead. This contraption was able to lower a room by 20 degrees Fahrenheit but consumed half a million pounds of ice in two months' time.

A close ancestor to the modern air conditioner units was first made in 1902 by an American engineer by the name of Willis Carrier. The machine at that time was called "Apparatus for Treating Air" and was built for the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Co. in Brooklyn, New York. Chilled coils were used in the machine to cool air and lower humidity to 55%, although the apparatus was made with enough precision that the humidity level desired was adjustable.

After the invention by Carrier, air conditioners began to bloom. They first hit the industrial buildings such as printing plants, textile mills, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and a few hospitals. The first air-conditioned home was that of Charles Gates, son of gambler John "Bet a Million" Gates, in Minneapolis in 1914. However, during the first wave of their installation, Carrier's air conditioner units were large, expensive, and dangerous due to the toxic ammonia that was used as coolant.

In 1922, Carrier had two breakthroughs - he replaced the ammonia with the benign coolant dielene and added a central compressor to reduce the size of the unit. The next advance was when Carrier sold his invention to movie-theater operators, with a notable debut in 1925 at the Rivoli on Broadway in New York City. In a short amount of time, air conditioners were installed in office buildings, department stores and railroad cars. The United States House of Representatives had air conditioners installed in 1928, with the Senate, White House and Supreme Court following suit in the years after. After World War II, window units air conditioners appeared, with sales escalating from 74,000 in 1948 to 1,045,000 in 1953.

Today, air conditioners have been said to be a partial cause for the changes in the South, and for most of us who have experienced its cooling benefits in times of searing heat waves, it is an invention that is hard to live without.
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