When it comes to landmark inventions that change the world, to say the very least, the air conditioner deserves mention. The air conditioner has made it possible for us to regulate and control the temperature and air quality to our liking and live more comfortably than ever. Before the 1900s, such a convenience was only dreamed of. Now we live in an age where we take it for granted, thanks to the efforts of one man: Willis Carrier.

Willis Carrier was an American engineer credited as “the father of air conditioning,” He created the prototype for an air conditioning unit in 1902. From there, he would help pioneer an entire industry and change the world by literally helping to make it a bit cooler. Here is the story of one man, one of humanity’s greatest breakthroughs and a cornerstone of the HVAC industry.

Early Life and Education

Willis Haviland Carrier was born on November 26, 1876, on a farm in western New York. He was an only child. His parents, Duane Williams Carrier and Elizabeth R. Haviland, helped instill in him a love for household appliances and repair. He enjoyed tinkering with and using his mother’s sewing machine and clocks. His mother also stoked his initial interest in mathematics. It became a passion for him, and he would do math whenever the opportunity arose.

Thanks to his natural gift of intelligence — and his aptitude for mathematics, machines, and science — he accepted a scholarship to study at Cornell University in 1895. He would graduate in 1901 with a B.S.E. (or Bachelor of Science in Engineering) for his work in Mechanical Engineering.

Early Career at Buffalo Forge

After leaving Cornell University, he would find work at the Buffalo Forge company as a heating engineer. The Buffalo Forge company manufactured forges, drills, fans, and machinery (as well as heaters, blowers, and exhaust systems). It provided him with the necessary experience that would prove useful in his later career. No matter what tasks the company assigned him, he would always go above and beyond, consistently impressing his superiors.

His efforts impressed management so much that he was later promoted to the director of the experimental engineering department within the company. During his time at the Buffalo Forge Company, destiny intervened, and he came upon a discovery that would eventually change the world.

The Invention

While working with a printing press at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing & Publishing company in Brooklyn, New York (he was there in response to a complaint about poor air quality), he came upon an idea that would change the course of history. The air quality inside the factory was so bad that it was causing the ink on the papers to run and the printing paper to deform, botching the prints.

He intuited that if he could somehow control the temperature and humidity and find the correct temperature and moisture level for printing, this would solve the problem and save the prints. Faced with this problem, he set out to create a device that would allow him to control an indoor environment’s humidity and temperature.

Then on July 17, 1902, in Buffalo, Willis submitted drafts of what would be recognized as the world’s first air conditioner. The installation in 1902 was the birth of air conditioning because of the addition of humidity control. This led to recognition by experts in the field that air conditioning must perform and fulfill the following basic functions:

  • Temperature control
  • Humidity control
  • Control of ventilation and circulation of air
  • Clean the air

A few years later, after much trial and error and field testing, he was granted a patent on January 2, 1906. This patent was the U.S. Patent 808, 897, an apparatus for treating air and the first spray-type air conditioning equipment in history. His “mechanical air controller,” as known then, would work by having air pass through a filter and over coils containing a coolant. This basic principle is still in use all over the world to this day.

He would continue to make tweaks in the design as customers would give him feedback. The device’s potential was not lost on him, and many customers felt the same way, as they placed many orders for the device. His invention was an almost instant success.

The Start of the Carrier Company

With the impending world war looming in 1914, Buffalo Forge decided to confine the company to manufacturing only. The company had employed Carrier for the last 12 years, and it was a startling change for him. Several of Buffalo Forge’s young engineers, including Carrier, decided to combine their life savings to start their own company. The Carrier Engineering Corporation was then formed on June 26, 1915.

Along with Carrier, the engineers who helped founded the company and worked with him in the experimental engineering department at Buffalo Forge were Edward T. Murphy, L. Logan Lewis, J. Irvine Lyle, Frank Sanna, Alfred Stacey, Jr., and Ernest T. Lyle. The company settled on headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, a spot they found on a street called Frelinghuysen Avenue. They would eventually split up their operations among a few offices in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The Future of Air Conditioning

Thanks to the great depression and the Wall Street Crash in 1929, many companies ran into financial problems, and his company was no different. The times would see an overall decrease in the use of commercial and residential air conditioners. Things would get better soon, however.

In 1930, the Carrier Engineering Corp. (as his company was known then) merged with the York Heating and Ventilation Corporation and Brunswick-Kroeschell Company to form the official Carrier Corporation. Carrier himself was placed as the chairman of the board.

During this time, Carrier decided to consolidate company offices — initially spread out over a few cities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania — to one central office in Syracuse, New York, in 1937.

The Legacy of the Air Conditioner and Growth of the Carrier Company

The 1950s would see the rise of a booming economy in which air conditioning sales skyrocketed, with the air conditioner being extremely popular. As a result, HVAC and Air Conditioning are ubiquitous, found in residential homes to commercial buildings and everywhere in between. The Carrier Company (now known as Carrier Global) experienced similar growth and is now a worldwide phenomenon and multi-billion dollar company.

How AC by J Continues This Legacy

The air conditioner has left a positive impact on the world, allowing us to live more comfortably through the easy regulation of indoor temperature and humidity. Thanks to Willis Carrier’s invention and the founding of the Carrier company, the air conditioner is affordable, easy to install, and helps to save lives worldwide.

At AC by J, we take pride in our knowledge of the history of the air conditioner and the HVAC industry as a whole. We understand how crucial indoor comfort is to you and do our absolute best to service all your air conditioning needs. Whether you need a brand-new installation, maintenance, or repair, we’re here to take care of you. We have proudly served Scottsdale, AZ, and the surrounding areas since 1983.

Contact us for any heating, cooling or plumbing services.

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