Air conditioning has a long and fascinating history. The American invention has positively impacted billions of lives across the globe over more than a century of incremental improvements and innovations.
And AC has offered more than comfort. The ability to cool buildings has lowered disease and improved sanitation and hygiene. And in this country, has reshaped where we Americans settled and how we socialize.
Air Conditioning History Starts with Ice
For much of human history, fevers were misunderstood, improperly managed, and life-threatening. Physician and inventor Dr. John Gorrie, a Florida native, first relied on the American ice trade to bring ice blocks from the Great Lakes to Florida. Expensive, unreliable, and ineffective, Gorrie’s attentions turned from the complex challenge of transporting ice to manufacturing it through the equally difficult process of compressing, cooling, and expanding gas via a homemade apparatus. His invention, after much tinkering, served as the blueprint for future generations of refrigerators.
Although he would eventually be awarded the first patent for mechanical refrigeration in 1851, he failed to find financial backing to improve and commercialize his design.
Who Invented Air Conditioning?
After Gorrie’s early efforts, it would be a half-century before Willis Carrier took up the challenge. His role at a forge offered him a unique challenge. Carrier was charged with reducing humidity levels in a publishing house that was causing magazine pages to wrinkle.
His invention would ultimately lead to a dehumidifier, a device that served as the earliest form of air conditioning. His new eponymous company, Carrier Engineering Corporation, remains one of the industry's most successful American air condition manufacturers.
The First Air Conditioning Building in the US
The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair offered the perfect opportunity to introduce air conditioning to the more than 20 million people who visited the event. Engineers created a mechanical refrigeration system that cooled a 1,000-seat auditorium and surrounding rooms in the Missouri State Building.
Early air conditioning systems were large, expensive, and energy-intensive, making them okay for commercial spaces like movie theaters but poorly suited for residential use. In the 1920s and 1930s, smaller systems from Frigidaire and General Electric showed promise, although the price tags were well out of reach for most Americans.
HVAC Goes Hollywood
Over the next decade, air cooling systems grew in popularity, playing a starring role in making Hollywood’s earliest hits possible or, at the very least, more comfortable to view.
The advent of air conditioning technology had a significant impact on the rise and success of, what would become, the summer blockbuster in the movie industry. Prior to the widespread use of air conditioning, movie theaters struggled to attract audiences during the hot summer months when the heat and discomfort made indoor activities less appealing. However, with the introduction of air conditioning systems, theaters were able to offer a cool and comfortable environment, drawing in larger crowds regardless of the temperature outside.
This newfound comfort and escape from the summer heat became a major selling point for movie theaters, leading to increased attendance and box office revenues during the summer season. As a result, studios recognized the potential for higher profits and started releasing their most anticipated films during the summer, creating a tradition of blockbuster releases that continues to this day. The availability of air conditioning technology significantly contributed to the transformation of the summer months into a prime period for movie releases, shaping the concept of the summer blockbuster and revolutionizing the way films are scheduled and marketed.
Residential Air Conditioning Systems Get Big by Getting Small
By the end of 1947, in the post-WWII economic boom, 43,000 window air conditioners made it to American households. Simple to operate and install, these window units made having a cool home affordable on a grand scale. Soon, these amazing window units made it more popular and feasible to move to hot-weather states like Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Arizona’s population more than doubled between 1947 and 1959, with air conditioning making life in the desert more bearable.
Related: How Has HVAC Evolved?
Air Conditioning Is Cooler Than Ever
Today, 87% of American households, roughly 100 million homes, have air conditioning.
The popularity of air conditioners has also led to rapid improvements. They continue to evolve to be more energy-efficient, for example.
HVAC technicians, including your local One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, are working to recommend and install the latest technology, including two-way air conditioners called air-source heat pumps. Heat pumps are air conditioners that can work in reverse to heat your home as well, replacing the need for furnaces, boilers, and woodstoves.
Past, Present, and Future, One Hour Is Here for You
We’re proud to carry on a tradition of innovation when it comes to residential heating and cooling. That’s why our friendly, professional technicians take the time to get the job done right and answer your questions. We love what we do, and you’ll enjoy the results of quality HVAC work. Request an appointment or call (800) 893-3523 today!