History of air conditioning

The term air conditioning is generally taken to mean the cooling and dehumidifying of air inside an enclosed space such as a building or car. An air conditioner is generally thought of as a device that cools or heats (reverse cycle) by means of compressing a gas via a compressor. It can also mean cooling air by water evaporation although this is usually referred to as evaporative cooling.

History of air conditioning – The Early days

Evaporative cooling has been around in one form or another for sometime. The Persians used a windcatcher system to pull air down through a tower and over water to provide cooling in the summer months and there are still many of these visible today. The Romans used to pipe water through the walls of buildings to cool them down and thus the air within.

History of air conditioning – The Eighteenth Century

In 1756 William Cullen gave the first documented public demonstration of artificial refrigeration. In Edinburgh he used a vacuum pump to create a partial vacuum over some diethyl ether, which boiled and absorbed heat from its’ surroundings. The result was a small amount of ice but unfortunately his experiment was never put to use.

History of air conditioning – The Nineteenth Century

In 1805 Oliver Evans designed a refrigeration system but never built it. He was best known for his inventions in the material handling field where he is recognised as one of the pre-eminent pioneers. His design was based upon the vapour-compression refrigeration system. This was later patented by an American, Jacob Perkins, in 1834 while he was living in England.

In 1842 an American doctor, John Gorrie, designed the first system to refrigerate water to produce ice. He also conceived the idea of using this method to cool the air in his hospital in Apalachicola, Florida. He built a working prototype, and was granted a US patent in 1851, but it was a commercial flop.

Alexander Twining is the first person to produce ice in commercial quantities and patented his machinery, in both the US and UK, in 1850 and 1853. He is credited with initiating commercial refrigeration in the United States and built his plant at Cleveland, Ohio. However the impending Civil War and inability to raise finance meant he never managed to put it into operation.

In 1881, when President James Garfield was attempting to recuperate after an assassination attempt, a naval engineer constructed a box-like structure to cool the air around the dying President. An air blower was installed over a chest containing 6 tons of ice. The air was then dried by conduction through a long iron box filled with cotton screens, and connected to the room’s heat vent. This device was at times capable of reducing the air temperature to 20°F (11°C) below the outside temperature. This moment in history is also notable for another event. Alexander Graham Bell specifically devised a metal detector to look for the bullet lodged within the President, but it is believed that the device became confused with the metal bed springs. Later the device was found to work perfectly and would have found the bullet had the President’s personal physician, Doctor Willard Bliss, allowed it to be used on the left side as well as the right.

In 1889 Alfred Wolff designed a crude ventilation system that was installed in Carnegie Hall in New York. By 1902 his ideas had come a long way and a 300 ton (thermal units!) design of his was installed at the New York Stock Exchange and remained in service for 20 years.

History of air conditioning – The Twentieth Century

Also in 1902 a young engineer by the name of Willis Carrier submitted drawings for what would become known as the world’s first modern air conditioning system. Uniquely Carrier’s system included a method of humidity control, unseen until now. The machine was even constructed with enough precision that the desired humidity level could be adjusted. This was followed by more refined systems and patents in 1906 and 1914. However the actual term ‘air conditioning’ is credited to Stuart Cramer from Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1906 he devised a system to add water to the air in his textile mill and used the term ‘air conditioning’ in his patent application later that year.

In 1906 the famous Larkin building in Buffalo becomes the first office building to be designed with air conditioning in mind. The first air conditioned home was that of Charles Gates in Minneapolis in 1914.

However many of the gases used in air conditioning were harmful, and it is not until 1928 that CFC refrigerants are synthesised. Announced in 1930 it is trademarked Freon and enabled refrigerators and air conditioners to be used with complete safety. Unfortunately at the time it wasn’t known that these CFC’s would damage the ozone layer. The present day refrigerant gases, such as Puron or R410A, are however completely harmless.

In 1939 the first car was offered with air conditioning as an option. By 1969 54% of new cars sold in the US are fitted with it.

History of air conditioning – Daikin

Daikin have played an import role in the development of air conditioning and related services in the twentieth century. Here are a few selected key dates…

  • 1936 – Mifujirator used as first air conditioning system for Japan’s trains.
  • 1957 – Japan’s first rotary compressor developed.
  • 1958 – First packaged type heat pump developed.
  • 1969 – First multi split developed.
  • 1969 – Daikin Australia formed.
  • 1982 – Japan’s first VRV system developed.
  • 2005 – VRVIII released, followed by VRVIII-S and VRVIII-W.
  • 2009 – Daikin is the first company to receive Eco label for heat pumps.

A brief History of Air Conditioning – May 2012

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