Celebrating the Anniversary of a Discovery That's Completely Changed the Built Environment

Following on the hottest ever first half of a year in America's recorded history, James Barron examines the history behind the creation of air conditioning, on this day in 1902.
July 17, 2012, 2pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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The birth of air conditioning can be traced to July 17, 1902, when a junior engineer named Willis Carrier drew the "blueprints for newfangled equipment to temper the air...a solution so simple that it had eluded everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to the naval engineers ordered to cool the White House when President James A. Garfield was dying: controlling humidity."

Barron describes the dilemma that Carrier, "a junior engineer from a furnace company," was trying to solve when he devised a system involving "fans, ducts, heaters and perforated pipes" for the the second floor of a Brooklyn printing plant. 

Needless to say, "It was a world-changing innovation," notes Barron.

"'Air-conditioning, in the broad sense, had a profound effect on the way people lived and worked,' said Bernard A. Nagengast, an engineering consultant who specializes in the history of air-conditioning and heating. 'It allowed industry to operate in ways it couldn't operate before, in places it couldn't operate before.'"

"It all but redefined Florida and Houston and the rest of the Sun Belt. 'And Singapore, sometimes called the air-conditioned nation,' said Eric B. Schultz, a former Carrier Corporation executive and author of a recently published company history."

"And, Mr. Schultz said, the Internet, because air-conditioning minimized dust, making possible the so-called clean rooms for computer manufacturers and electronics companies."

 

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Published on Monday, July 16, 2012 in The New York Times
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