Thank Willis Carrier for the air conditioning

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Let’s pause for a moment of silent appreciation for Willis Carrier. Thank you and Amen.

If you are in a cool house, office, factory, store etc, you have Willis Carrier to thank. In 1902, Willis, an American engineer, created a system for cooling the air in the printing company where he worked. It was the beginning of what we now call air conditioning.

Can I get a hallelujah and another Amen?

As mentioned in previous columns, I don’t perspire in some lady-like manor. I sweat like a field hand, so I’m an especially grateful for this man’s invention.

While Carrier gets the credit for inventing air conditioning as we know it, attempts at air-cooling started long ago. Seems the ancient Egyptians were the first to try something to battle heat in their homes.

They hung wet mats over their doorways. Supposedly, the water evaporated from the mats, which reduced the temperature and added moisture to the dry desert air outside. Well, maybe that worked in Egypt, but the last thing we need in summertime South Alabama is more moisture in the air.

Next, it was the Romans. They tried cooling things off using their famous aqueducts to circulate water through indoor pipes. Again, supposedly this made the air cooler inside their villas. Sounds like more moisture to me, and moisture equals humidity. Humidity equals sweating like a field hand.

Then there was a guy named Emperor Elagabalus. Back in the third century, he decided he’d build a mountain of snow in the garden next to his villa. He imported snow via donkey trains to create a system described as “marvelously inefficient.”

I’m wondering exactly how he saw that plan working. Was he going to sit atop his mountain when his house got too hot? Or maybe, he planned to do what I read one man did, freeze his underwear to fight the heat.

I’m glad this idea didn’t take off. Only thing that might be worse than having field hand sweat is having a frozen behind.

Just before Carrier came up with his idea, one of our presidents tried his own device. President James Garfield, who was dying in 1881, got relief from heat using a device that blew air through cotton sheets doused in ice water. Sounds like a combination of the Egyptian wet mats and the emperor guy’s snow mountain.

It kinda worked, but used half a million pounds of ice in two months. I’m trying to imagine my icemaker producing half a million pounds of ice. And where did they get half a million pounds of ice in 1881?

Anyway, back to Willis Carrier. He followed up cooling the publishing plant with the invention of a centrifugal chiller, which added a compressor and reduced the size of the unit.

On Memorial Day in 1925, he introduced his new contraption at the Rivoli Theater in Times Square. For years after that day, thousands headed to air-conditioned movie houses to beat the heat. That is how we got the “summer blockbuster.”

A guy named Stuart Cramer coined the term “air conditioning” when he invented something like Carrier’s unit. He used his air conditioning to cool textile plants.

It was 1914 when a rich guy installed AC in his private home. Charles Gates (wonder if he’s any relation to Bill) hired Carrier to put an air conditioner in his mansion. I’m betting the Gates had a lot of company after the air conditioning installation.

And so, civilization moved forward and went from only 10 percent of American homes having air conditioning in 1965 to 85 percent by 2007. Now, pretty much every home has some kind of air conditioning unit.

My own personal mountain of snow came via Walker Electric instead of donkey trains. It is a silver box stamped with the name Carrier on the side. As I sit here, it is humming and cool air is swirling around me. I think I may go out there right now and give it a big hug.