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A Brief History of Air Conditioning

Gorrie Ice Machine
Gorrie Ice Machine image from From U.S. Patent 8080, May 6, 1851
In the mid-1800s, Floridian physician John Goorie was faced with an overwhelming Yellow Fever outbreak. In an effort to treat his patients of what he said was “bad air” he determined to cool the sickrooms and reduce the fever. He created a device that suspended an ice filled basin from the ceiling. The cool air flowed down to the patients and then through an opening near the floor- effectively cooling and cleaning the air. Later, he was granted a patent on a “machine to make ice” and became the father of air conditioning. His cooling system was even utilized for President Garfield.

Building on Goorie’s work, Willis Carrier from Buffalo, New York utilized advances in electricity to move beyond ice and invent the first modern air conditioning system. He created a unit that used oscillating fans to sent air through water-cooled coils. Carrier further refined his method by inventing the centrifugal chiller, adding a central compressor, and reducing the unit’s size. The unit was premiered at the Rivioli Theater in 1922. The initial use of air conditioning in movie theaters actually contributed to the summer blockbuster. 

The next big leap was to bring air conditioning into the home. Frigidaire made a machine that was smaller than the industrial models but still rather impracticable for a house. Then, GE’s Frank Faust improved that design through 32 prototypes in the early 1930s. Air conditioning benefited from new coolants developed by General Motors—the type has changed over time with discoveries of the environmental impact of previous chemicals.

H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman filed a patent for an air conditioner that would operate from a window ledge. These were not very popular because of the high price.

Henry Galson developed a more compact, less expansive window air conditioner, which allowed people to use them in their homes. Over the next two decades, central air conditioning took hold in new homes and drove population spikes in Florida and Arizona.

The progress of air conditioning halted for awhile during the energy crisis of the 70s. Spurred by regulations and new technology, air conditioners continue to become more efficient and are now twice as efficient than they were in 1990. Today, there are strides in making air conditioning with non-vapor compression that could double efficiency yet again. 

The most recent developments in air conditioning technology are about cleaning the air as it is cooled. Current air conditioners filter the air, but new technology will allow the units to remove allergens and improve air quality. Some units clean the air through ionizers or actively seeking out particles rather than passively waiting for them to collect. 

Wentzel’s is happy to provide installation for the very latest in air conditioning, including the REME Halo. The Halo purifies the air from inside the ducts and significantly reduces allergens and bacteria. 

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