You may be sitting at home on your laptop browsing today’s articles enjoying a luxury that humans have never been able to enjoy until the way we do until this past century. That luxury is the marvel of air conditioning. Even in our advanced modern age, the heat of summer is something that we still have to deal with. While we can enjoy the comforts of modern climate control systems, what advances made it possible to bring the chill of winter into the heat of summer?
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We talked to the history buffs at Academy Mechanical in Edmonton about the history of A/C and they gave us a brief timeline of the technology!
1. The very first attempts to provide relief from the heat were based off the same principles that our bodies use to keep us cool, the evaporation of sweat. The ancient Egyptians figured out that if you placed wet reeds in your windows, the air would cool as it moved over them and evaporated the water. This also had the added benefit of increasing a room’s humidity, a boon for those located in dry desert regions.
2. The Persians bumped this up to a larger scale, by building tall towers to direct the wind. As the wind blew through these towers, it was either directed down into the buildings and houses below, or first through pipes and cisterns to cool it before it was then being passed into buildings connected to it.
The next advances came through the development of machines or other mechanical practices
3. The Chinese developed the rotary fans that are still in use today. Powered manually, these fans provided much needed air flow through the Chinese palaces.
4. The Romans discovered that if they piped the water from their famous aqueducts through their walls, it would cool the walls and thereby cool their rooms.
The study of Chemistry provided the next steps to bring us closer to the modern A/C.
5. In England in the 1600’s Cornelis Drebbel was able to combine water, salt, and snow from the previous year stored by the aristocracy in special chambers to cool the then king to the point of shivering.
6. In the US in the 1700’s Benjamin Franklin and an associate were able to show that the evaporation of alcohol, not just water could be used to cool.
7. In the 1800s, English scientist Michael Faraday found that liquid ammonia that was compressed, could cool the air as it evaporated.
8. The first ice machine was invented in 1842 by Florida native John Gorrie. He used this ice to cool the hospital where his patients were.
It wasn’t until the spread of electricity that modern A/Cs was developed.
9. Willis Carrier built the first machine to be called an Air Conditioner in 1902, launching the Carrier Company that is still in operation today.
10. Stuart Cramer built the first evaporative, or swamp, coolers in 1906. He is also the one that coined the term air conditioning.
11. The last major breakthrough in modern cooling came through the development of specific refrigerants that were non-toxic and non-flammable by Thomas Midgely, Jr.
Combining all the advances before it, modern air conditioning quickly spread after the invention of the portable air conditioner in the mid-forties.
By Hannah Whittenly