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The History of Heating and Cooling

The history of heating and cooling is really the history of air conditioning. From the earliest days in history, humankind learned to harness and direct fire. With the discovery that heat rose, people learned to use fireplaces, radiant heat and directed air to heat progressively larger spaces. Cooling, however, took much longer to work out.

For the vast majority of history, the only option for avoiding sweltering heat was to take advantage of the environment — swimming in cool water or finding shade. Only within the last century has air conditioning become reasonably possible.

Early Air Conditioning

The earliest known AC installation was created and performed by Dr. John Gorrie, a physician from Florida. The device, constructed in the 1830s, essentially blew a fan across a large container of ice and was used to cool hospital rooms.

By 1881, a system was designed by a crew of naval engineers to provide relief for the dying President James Garfield. This machine saturated a cloth with ice water, and used a machine to blow air through the cloth. While the machine could drop the temperature of a room up to 20 degrees, it used about 500,000 pounds of ice in only two months — not the most efficient option!

Developing Technologies

By the end of the 19th century, technology called “manufactured air” was used for refrigeration purposes. To preserve food and beer and protect sensitive documents, cooling stations could pipe cool air into other buildings.

The first modern-style air conditioning unit came about in 1902 when mechanical engineer Willis Carrier designed a system that could be used for offices, hotels, hospitals and apartments. His system used chilled coils to not only cool the air, but reduce humidity by more than 50%. It could even be adjusted to specific levels. These machines, however, were large, expensive and used dangerous chemicals to work.

Expanding Reach

Over the next several decades, temperature controls expanded, with advances by Alfred Wolff in 1902 cooling the New York Stock Exchange. In 1904 at the World’s Fair, the whole world got their first look at the marvel of AC. By 1911, Carrier introduced the Rational Psychometric Formula, which is still in use by the HVAC industry today.

By 1914 the first residential home was cooled, and between 1917 and 1930 movie theaters began to use the technology. In 1922 less toxic chemicals were used and by 1925 department stores were cooled.

World War II

During World War II, AC technology was vital to Allied forces, cooling production facilities and used to keep food fresh. Portable units were introduced for use in hot climates, and AC was even used to test the effects of high altitude on airplanes.

The Modern Age

Air Conditioning really took off after the war, and the more Americans purchased the technology, the more it improved. It even helped cool the space suits that allowed astronauts to walk on the moon! Even today, technology for energy efficient systems is still evolving and improving.


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