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With the temperatures rising, we’re all about to start feeling extra grateful for the modern-day invention of air conditioning. Most people in the south would agree that air conditioning is a must-have, especially during the sweltering summer months. At JAC Services we understand the ins and outs of today’s air conditioning systems better than most, but have you ever wondered what the history of this technology is exactly?

The fact is, we’ve been trying to cool the air in our homes for a long time and luckily for us, there have been several improvements made to how we do it. In part 1, we shared what the early days of the development of air conditioning were like. Prior to air conditioning, people had to be intentional about how they lived in order to deal with the heat. From cooking after the sun goes down to maximizing air flow in the home with strategically placed windows, people had no choice but to deal with the heat before they could rely on air conditioning. Where we left off in part 1, Willis Carrier had just invented a machine that could cool the air, humidify and dehumidify. After implementing this technology in textile mills, Carrier started his own company Carrier Engineering Corporation with the hopes of extending this new technology to places beyond just textile mills.

Air Conditioning Expands to Public Buildings

It’s hard to imagine today, but when air conditioning was first invented it wasn’t first introduced to homes or consumers. Instead, the focus was put on getting this technology into public buildings and businesses. This is largely due to the fact that early air conditioning systems were very large and expensive. The size and cost of these systems made them unfeasible for people to have in their own homes, but possible for larger buildings.

In 1904 one of the early mechanical refrigeration devices was used to keep the public comfortable at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Organizers of the World’s Fair used the system to cool the Missouri State Building. The system required 35,000 cubic feet of air per minute in order to keep the building cool. The building consisted of a 1,000-seat auditorium, various rooms and a rotunda. This was a significant time for air conditioning because it was the first time that the American public was able to experience controlled cooling. While this was a big breakthrough, it wasn’t until the 1920s when this technology expanded into another type of building: Movie theaters! In 1922 an early version of air conditioning was introduced to movie theaters, starting in Los Angeles. Prior to this, movie theaters relied on cooling systems that were basically heating systems outfitted with refrigeration equipment. These rudimentary systems used floor vents to distribute cool air. While this was somewhat of an improvement over no cooling at all, the system left much to be desired. Upper levels didn’t receive much of the air and were therefore left with hot and muggy conditions while lower levels received too much cold air. So much in fact that movie goers on these levels would often resort to wrapping their feet in newspaper just to stay warm.

The system that was introduced in 1922 however, fixed much of these issues. This system utilized higher vents to distribute cold air, providing more comfort and better humidity control throughout all levels of the theater. Later that same year, Carrier Engineering Corporation debuted a new type of air conditioning system. This new system utilized a centrifugal chiller and had less moving parts than the earlier system. These changes not only made the system more reliable and effective, but it also reduced the cost, making it easier for the use of air conditioning to spread.

Air Conditioning is Introduced to the Home

Although air conditioning systems began to see more improvements that made them easier to use, systems during the early 1900s were still too large and expensive for home use. However, manufacturers in the market were eagerly working on designing a system that would fulfill the needs of homeowners for cooler air. In 1929 Frigidaire debuted a new system that was built off refrigeration technology of the time. Unlike other systems prior to this, this split-system room cooler was small enough that it could be used in the home. Although the size of this system was much more practical for home use, it was still very heavy and more cumbersome and expensive to use than most homeowners were comfortable with. Later, another would-be big player in air conditioning, General Electric, introduced their version of this design. Their version was more self-contained than Frigidaire’s and was therefore a step in the right direction.

During the early 1930s, General Motors synthesized the world’s first non-flammable refrigerating fluids, chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) coolants. This was significant because it greatly improved the safety of air conditioners. While CFC coolants were used for decades, they were eventually phased out during the 1990s due to being linked to depleting the ozone. It was also during the 1930s that a smaller home cooling system was introduced. This version was meant to go on a window ledge, but was still too expensive for the everyday person to take advantage of.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that air conditioning had advanced enough that central air conditioning was built into most new homes. By this point, window air conditioners were also significantly lower in price, making them more popular in households. The increased accessibility of air conditioning even influenced the populations of warmer states, like Arizona and Florida, since people could now control the temperature of their homes more easily.

Today, air conditioning is a staple in most homes, whether that means central air conditioning, window units or portable units. Most homes today are built with central air conditioning and even older homes now are usually outfitted with some kind of air conditioning unit, especially in the south. Air conditioning has come a long way since the early days where it was only found in large businesses and there’s no doubt that it’s become an important part of our lives!

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