On This Day: The first modern air-conditioner was created

American engineer Willis Carrier invented and created the first modern air-conditioning unit today in 1902. We look back at how his innovation, that has gone to become a necessity from a luxury in today's world

The air-condition or the AC, the electrical appliance that is practically used just about everywhere from houses, offices, vehicles and many other places to tackle the sveltering heat has a father. An American engineer by the name of Willis Carrier, who while working at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing & Publishing Company, a printing plant in Brooklyn, New York came up with a rather unique solution to a quality problem experienced at the firm.

Willis Carrier
Picture for representational purposes

Carrier used his knowledge of heating objects with steam and reversed it by sending water through cold coils (filled with cold water) instead of hot coils, which cooled the air thereby enabling the amount of moisture to be controlled. This made the humidity in the room controllable, and it helped maintain consistent paper dimensions and ink alignment.

Willis Carrier was granted a patent on his invention on January 2 1906, four years after his invention of the air-conditioner. He termed his creation, 'Appartus for Treating Air.' Career is believed to have made the world's first spray-type air-conditioning equipment, which humidified or dehumidified air, heating water for the first and cooling it for the second.

Willis Carrier. Pic/YouTube
Willis Carrier. Pic/YouTube

After discovering that "constant dew-point depression provided practically constant relative humidity," Willis Carrier designed an automatic control system, for which he filed a patent claim on May 17, 1907. This later became known among air conditioning engineers as the "law of constant dew-point depression."

Willis Carrier's "Rational Psychrometric Formulae" tied together the concepts of relative humidity, absolute humidity, and dew-point temperature thus enabling the design of air-conditioning systems to precisely fit the requirements at hand. Carrier presented it at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in December 3, 1911 and it went on to become the "Magna Carta of Psychrometrics."

Willis Carrier poses next to his invention. Pic/YouTube
Willis Carrier poses next to his invention. Pic/YouTube

Carrier along with seven young engineers pooled together their life savings to form the Carrier Engineering Corporation in New York on June 26, 1915 after their employer Buffalo Forge Company decided to confine its activities entirely to manufacturing on the onset of the First World War. The Carrier Corporation pioneered the design and manufacture of refrigeration machines to cool large spaces. Residential air-conditioning was introduced in the 1920s. The Carrier Corporation remains a world leader in commercial and residential HVAC and refrigeration. In 2007, the Carrier Corporation had sales of more than $15 billion and employed some 45,000 people.

Did you know?
Although Willis Carrier is credited as the father of modern air-conditioning, the term 'air-conditioning' was actually coined four years after Carrier's invention by another American innovater by the name of Stuart W. Cramer in 1906. Cramer coined the term "air conditioning", using it in a patent claim he filed that year as an analogue to "water conditioning", then a well-known process for making textiles easier to process.  

Air-conditioning has been experimented with before Willis Carrier's mechanical breakthrough. Here are a few examples...
>> Ancient Egyptians hung reeds in windows that were moistened with trickling water. The  water evaporated thus cooling the air blowing through the window, which in turn made the air more humid, a beneficial condition in a dry desert climate.
>> Ancient Romans circulated water from aquaducts through the walls of certain houses to cool them.
>> In medieval Persia, cisterns and wind towers were involved to cool buildings during the hot climate
>> The 2nd-century Chinese inventor Ding Huan (fl 180) of the Han Dynasty invented a rotary fan for air conditioning, with seven wheels 3 m (9.8 ft) in diameter and manually powered.
>> In 747, Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–762) of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) had the Cool Hall (Liang Tian) built in the imperial palace, which the Tang Yulin describes as having water-powered fan wheels for air conditioning as well as rising jet streams of water from fountains.
>> In 1820, English scientist and inventor Michael Faraday discovered that compressing and liquefying ammonia could chill air when the liquefied ammonia was allowed to evaporate.

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