The History of Air Conditioning in Charleston, SC

Countless homeowners in Charleston, SC and beyond rely upon air conditioners to protect them from unbearable heat and keep their homes comfortable. Few, however, know or appreciate the often fascinating history behind this now indispensable invention. How did air conditioning — undoubtedly one of the most significant technical accomplishments of the twentieth century and currently responsible for as much as 48% of all household electricity consumption — come to be?

A Humble Prehistory

The very first echoes of air conditioning reach all the way back to the Chinese Han Dynasty in the second century CE, during which the inventor Ding Huan created a manually operated evaporative cooling system. Centuries later, in 1758, Benjamin Franklin also conducted some important experiments with evaporation and alcohol that were able to exploit the same principles Ding Huan relied upon.

The next major step in the development of air conditioning took place starting in the 1840s, when the Florida-based physician Dr. John Gorrie hypothesized that bringing ice from frozen lakes into Florida hospital rooms would cure patients of diseases. Since this was logistically near-impossible to accomplish at the time, Gorrie began tinkering with the idea of creating an artificial cooling system.

He eventually arrived at the idea of using a compressor powered by horses, water, wind or steam to manufacture ice. Though he was able to secure a patent for this idea in 1851, the unfortunate death of his principal financial backer robbed him of the means to develop his invention and bring it to a mass market. Nevertheless, his work was critical to the development of what eventually became modern air conditioners.

The AC Is Born

The father of the modern air conditioning system is the engineer Willis Haviland Carrier. In 1902, he created the first air conditioner following a series of experiments tied with the principles of humidity control.

That year, high humidity levels at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn, NY were causing magazine pages to wrinkle up, and the company asked Carrier to solve the problem. Building on the work of his predecessors, Carrier created a system that pushed air over a set of cooling coils filled with cold water. This removed moisture from the air, cooled it and solved the problem.

Following this, Carrier would make a series of refinements and improvements to his design, and by the early 1920s, his systems would be at work in places like the Rivoli Theater in New York and the Metropolitan Theater in Los Angeles. Ultimately, by 1933, the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America had developed the AC to the point where it had evaporator coils, a belt-driven condenser, a blower motor and various other mechanical controls. Today’s air conditioners use vapor compression and have more precise controls, more accurate sensors and greater energy efficiency, but they use the same basic design as Carrier’s model.

Moving Into the Modern Day

The first commercially viable ACs were still too large and expensive for use in the home, but this changed over time as technology developed, and it became cheaper to create the required technologies. One of these was Frigidaire’s split system cooler, which was first introduced in 1929 and was the size of a radio cabinet. Another important development was the creation, thanks to a group of scientists at General Motors, of refrigerant.

In the 1940s, engineer Henry Galson started building compact and inexpensive air conditioning units. By the late 1960s, it finally became common for new homes to have central air conditioning systems. The final significant development that brings us up to today is smart technology, the various parts of which greatly increase AC energy efficiency and make them easier to use.

Now, ACs are an established technology with countless millions of regular users worldwide. In response to this, a whole industry has cropped up in which professional HVAC technicians offer people a wide range of different AC repair, installation and maintenance services.

This whirlwind tour of air conditioning history should give you some more appreciation for what these important systems do to make your life easier. If you need any kind of AC service in Charleston, SC, call us at AC Heating and Air Conditioning Services today.

Image provided by iStock

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