Friday, June 19, 2009

Willis Carrier

As I sit and stew in the early summer heat in my stuffy, upstairs apartment, I can't help but think about an invention that everyone can appreciate: the air conditioner. Air conditioning has existed in rudimentary forms for centuries, but the modern air conditioner made its first appearance in 1902 as the brainchild of a 26 year-old engineer in Syracuse, NY.

Willis Carrier (1875 - 1950) was hired out of college into a heat and ventilation research department for the Buffalo Forge Company. One of his early clients was a printer whose paper was deforming because of humidity fluctuations. Carrier determined the optimal moisture level and invented a machine that would cool and regulate the air to the temperature that corresponded with the proper humidity. The air conditioner, first described in Carrier's patent application as an "Apparatus for Treating Air," gained quick a popularity with manufacturers, food processors, and stores.

Carrier remained at the forefront of the burgeoning industry for years; engineering principles he explained in 1911 are still used in the industry.
After more than a decade with Buffalo Forge, he formed Carrier Corp., which focused on his air conditioners. The company developed new air conditioning technologies that helped spread their use from the commercial world to the retail and recreational world before entering homes. The first home model by Carrier was made in 1928. Those ubiquitous, window-anchored air conditioners appeared in the 1950s, making living in the south bearable to more people (as well as summer apartment living). For better or worse, we can credit air conditioning for the southern population boom of the latter 20th century.

Willis Carrier's contributions to society are impressive. The perils of temperature and moisture variability endanger perishables, wear out machinery, and make working environments inhospitable. It would be difficult to measure the impact on efficiency and productivity air conditioning has had, even before we consider the benefits of personal comfort. For making life more bearable to us all, Carrier is today's Hero of Capitalism.

American Heritage
Willis Carrier Wikipedia entry
History of Air Conditioning
Time 100 profile
A Short History of Air Conditioning

1 comment:

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