The History of Air Conditioning – A Quick Look

If you look deep enough into the books, the history of air conditioning can be dated back as far as 1758, the year when Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley discovered that alcohol and other liquids can evaporate faster than water had the power to freeze it. A little later in 1820, Michael Faraday discovered that the same technique was possible with ammonia. Just ten years later, the first air conditioning unit was created in Florida by John Gorrie. This machine used compressed air to freeze liquid water. This machine was not referred to as air conditioning, though, but rather an ‘ice breaker’.

At this time, cooled rooms were a thing of dreams.

In 1906 however textile mill engineer Stuart Cramer created an air ventilation device that used water vapour to cool the air around textile factories. Cramer believed that this allowed the yarn to spin more freely. In 1931, what we would consider a modern-day application of air conditioning happened: H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman invented an individual room air conditioning unit that the general public could buy. It cost a staggering $10,000, or roughly $120,000 in today’s money.

Not many people purchased that early product, however. As soon as budding entrepreneurs discovered it, they set out to create their own, and by 1940 there were multiple types of air conditioning unit available. This spawned a new era in the history of air conditioning, one that was more advanced than ever before and one that was affordable for almost anybody.

Today, air conditioning is a lot different to what H.H. Schultz will have envisioned. It is everywhere, from road going vehicles, to planes, to skyscrapers, to hospitals, to homes, to offices, and even garages. The world’s obsession with air conditioning is really rather incredible, but then again it should be, as the ability to control one’s climate is something not given to humans by nature – we have worked for it.

Modern air conditioners haven’t always been great though.

All air conditioning units built before 1995 used CFC-12 as a cooling agent. CFC-12 is now known to destroy the ozone layer. This chemical agent is now banned.

Today, the majority of air conditioning units use HFC-134a, a cooling agent that has been proven to be non-ozone depleting. Air conditioners are now also more power efficient than ever before, requiring less electricity to power them. The most energy efficient air conditioners have an ‘Energy Star’, which is achieved by meeting strict regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency. So there you go, a quick look at the history of air conditioning – your turn, what do you think?

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