A brief history of air conditioning

When and by whom air conditioning was invented and how important it has become

Until one man’s breakthrough in the early 20th century, humans had been attempting to control the ambient temperature of buildings for years, but to no avail; nature would not be tamed. However in 1902, American inventor, Willis Carrier, created the first ever mechanical air conditioning system; since then, there’s been no going back!

As the UK recovers from its most recent short but sweaty heatwave, we take a moment to reflect upon Willis Carrier and his groundbreaking invention which completely revolutionised the home and workplace in the hot and steamy summer months.

Air conditioning was invented in 1902 by an American engineer

The first mechanical air con unit was invented by Willis Carrier in 1902

Carrier was born in New York in 1876 to a New England family (interesting fact: one of his ancestors was hanged during the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century). He studied at Cornell University and graduated in 1902 with a engineering degree.

Following the end of his studies, Carrier went to work for Buffalo Forge Company, where he produced the plans for the first ever mechanical air conditioning system.

In 1915, he separated from Buffalo Forge and founded his own company, Carrier Engineering Corp., with Buffalo Forge colleague, Irvine Lyle, who would become the company’s marketing expert.

Throughout the following years, Carrier perfected his designs and his pioneering company become hugely successful and the leading supplier of industrial and residential air conditioning units in the US.

Carrier is credited with enabling the residential expansion into the American southwest in the 1950s, as the air conditioning technology he invented throughout the early 20th century made living in these areas bearable during the summer season.

According to a 1998 TIME article, without air conditioning “productivity rates would plunge 40% over the world”, “the rates of drunkenness, divorce, brutality and murder would be Lord knows how much higher” and we could kiss art preservation, deep sea fishing and the computer industry goodbye.

Carrier died in 1950, but his legacy lives on to this day. The Carrier Corporation, now owned by United Technologies, remains one of the leading manufacturers and suppliers of HVAC technology in the world.

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