HVAC The History of HVAC

The Early Stages of Artificial Cooling

The first modern cooling unit was developed in the early 1900s. However, the desire to escape extremely high temperatures dates as far back as the 1840s. Dr. John Gorrie of Florida believed that cool, flowing area was a key factor in preventing diseases running rampant. Gorrie’s initial system for cooling was a logistical nightmare; requiring ice to be shipped to hot, humid Florida from frozen lakes and streams in the Northern part of the United States. Through trial-and-error Gorrie began to tinker with the idea of artificial cooling. Gorrie designed a machine that created ice using a compressor. This compressor could be powered by a horse, water, wind-driven sails, or steam. Gorrie was granted a patent for this machine in 1851 and although he was unsuccessful at selling his creation, is invention and the genius behind it would lead to the formation of modern air conditioning and refrigeration.

Combating High Temperatures to Fight Disease

After Dr. Gorries breakthrough with artificial cooling in the 1840s it was several years before anyone else approached the idea of modern cooling. In 1902 Willis Carrier patented his “Apparatus for Treating Air”. This piece of equipment could ‘humidify’ a space by heating water or ‘dehumidify’ a space by cooling water. Willis Carrier was an engineer, who during 1902 took a job at the Buffalo Forge Company. His first task was to work with at the publishing company in Brooklyn, Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company to solve the humidity issue in the building. The humidity was making the pages of the publications wilt. Following Carriers groundbreaking creation, he began to see how humidity control and modern air conditioning could benefit other industries. Carrier left Buffalo Forge Company for form Carrier Engineering Corporation with six other engineers.

Introducing America to Comfort Cooling

In 1904 the American public is exposed to the concept of comfort cooling at the St. Louis State Fair. Organizers of the fair use mechanical refrigeration to cool the Missouri state building.

The term “Air Conditioning” was coined in 1906 by a textile mill owner in North Carolina.

In the 1920s as Hollywood was on the rise and Americans filled movies theaters. In the beginning cooling systems in theaters distributed the cold air through floor vents. This particular route of air distribution lead to theaters having vastly different temperatures between the upper and lower levels of the theaters. In 1922, Carries installed a cooling system to combat these initial issues, this new system pushed cool air through higher vents to ensure a steady comfort level throughout the entire building.

In 1922, Carrier introduced the centrifugal chiller. The chiller had less moving parts and compressor stages. This increased the reliability of the unit and lowered the cost making this system even more accessible through the United States.

With all the advancements in modern cooling technologies, it is no surprised that people wanted these capabilities in their homes. The current systems were too large and too expensive to serve a typical American home; however in 1929 a new kind of system would get the ball rolling for cooling people in their homes. Fridgidaire introduces and split-system room cooler. While this system was smaller than anything else on the market it was still heavy, expensive and required it’s own condensing unit.

In the 1930s the quest for non-flammable refrigerants to improve the overall safety of cooling units began. General Motors developed synthesized chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) coolants that would later be blamed for the depletion of the ozone layer and would eventually be phased out of the market to make way for hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which were in-turn blamed for global warming. As a result of the environment repercussions from both harmful fluids the breakthrough in new, ‘better for the environment’ refrigerants and technologies would move into development.

From the 1930s to the late 1960s the development of smaller in-home cooling units was on the rise. H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman filed a patent for an air conditioning that could sit on a window ledge. Due to the high price tag on this design, this unit was not widely purchased.

A smaller, less expensive version of the window air conditioning unit in 1947. 43,000 of these new units were sold and finally, air conditioning could be enjoyed by the average American at a reasonable price.

Central air conditioning was the standard by the late 1960s. The availability and affordability of this centralized air concept resulted in the population growth in some of the united states hottest, most humid regions.

Efficiency is Key

In the 1970s when the energy crisis hit, lawmakers enacted specific laws to reduce energy consumption. This lead to the development of the Appliance Equipment Energy Standard Program. This program mandates a federal energy efficiency standard for all air conditioner manufacturers.

This program has resulted in efficiency improvements in air conditioning technology and has helped consumers conserve energy and save money

Today’s air conditioners use 50% less energy than they did in 1990.

The Future is Sustainable

The Emerging Technologies Program continues the Energy Department’s quest for solutions to make air conditioning units more energy efficient, cost effective, environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Learn more about the Energy Department’s push to reduce the environmental impact of air cooling technologies.