Pretty soon it’ll be time to fire up the air conditioner for this year. We’re going to find out how the cool got into air conditioning. Today, on Engineering Works!
If you were paying attention to the news a while ago, you probably know this already. This year, 2004, is the 102nd anniversary of the invention of air conditioning.
Mechanical engineer Willis Carrier invented air conditioning as we know it in 1902. His first customer was a commercial printer in New York City who needed help dealing with what the heat and sticky humidity of July were doing to the paper in his print shop.
Before Carrier designed that first air conditioning system, all we could do about heat and humidity was to move the air around â€” with fans. Big ones; little ones; the cardboard ones your grandparents fluttered to keep cool in church.
Fanning the air past your face made you feel less uncomfortable. But Carrier’s air conditioning was different. He didn’t just move the air. He cooled it.
Air conditioning cools because when a gas under pressure expands, it absorbs heat. That’s physics. Blow warm air across some pipes with an expanding gas in it and the air gets cold. That’s engineering. Blow that cold air into a room and you get comfortable.
Simple. But it took Willis Carrier’s engineering ingenuity to turn physics into the air conditioners that keep our homes and cars and the places we work cool and comfortable in hot weather.