Energy Eniday Environment Research and development Technology

How air conditioning changed the world

Ice melting cartoon holding a fan
Nicholas Newman Eniday September 2017

Keeping cool in the heat of summer has been a challenge since ancient times. In fact, air conditioning in buildings is not a new idea…

There are records of ancient Romans making efforts to keep themselves cool in the heat of summer. In fact, the third century Roman Emperor Elagabalus sent slaves to collect snow from nearby mountains, to spread about his gardens. He then had his servants use fans to make a cooling wind.
Other passive cooling methods used over the centuries have included using bright colors on walls and roofs to reflect the heat and making use of fountains and pools. In fact, many of the world’s historic houses like the Alhambra Palace in GranadaVilla d’Este near Rome and the village of Santorini in Greece are examples of passive air conditioning technologies in use.

The modern birth of air conditioning

However, until the start of the 20th century, there was little progress in developing new air-conditioning technologies. But, 1902, was the birth of artificial cooling, and what we call air conditioning today. This innovation is due to work of a young engineer called Willis Carrier, then working at a heating company named Buffalo Forge. Willis Carrier was approached by now defunct New York-based printing company Sackett & Wilhelms. It was having problems in its printing process, caused by fluctuating levels of humidity. When printing a picture in color, this required the same paper to be printed four times—in cyan ink, magenta, yellow, and black. If the humidity changed between print runs, the paper would slightly expand or contract, causing a poor print finish.

Willis Carrier came up with the solution. His innovative idea to control humidity levels was what we call conditioning today. It involved circulating air over coils chilled by compressed ammonia, which maintained the humidity at a constant 55 percent.

Soon this discovery was adopted by a range of industries including textiles, flour mills, and the Gillette Corporation, to reduce the moisture razor blade production. However, it was not until 1906 that Willis Carrier saw the opportunity to exploit his invention in public buildings such as theaters and cinemas. Read more


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.