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Willis Carrier

inventor of air conditioning

Willis Haviland Carrier

Willis Haviland Carrier was born in Angola, New York, on November 26, 1876, and grew up on a nearby farm. He earned a Masters in Engineering degree from Cornell University in June 1901, and began working at the Buffalo (NY) Forge Company, a firm that produced heating and exhaust systems, a month later.

During the hot, muggy summer of 1901, employees of Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing of Brooklyn, New York, had become exasperated by how the weather impeded operations -- ink dried poorly, colors ran, and paper swelled. Early the following year, company executives approached Buffalo Forge, asking if some way could be found to regulate the moisture in the air as well as the temperature. Buffalo Forge turned the problem over to Carrier, whose research on heating coils had already lopped $40,000 off the company's winter heating bill. Carrier's initial solution involved circulating cold water through coils originally designed for heating and then balancing their temperature with the rate of air flow. This solution worked as far as temperature regulation, but the problem of dew point control remained. As Carrier stood on a foggy Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, train platform in 1902, he realized that he could dry air by passing it through water to create fog. Doing so would make it possible to manufacture air with specific amounts of moisture in it. His first complete system, which successfully regulated both moisture and temperature, was installed on July 17, 1902.

On January 2, 1906, Carrier was granted U.S. Patent #808897 for his "Apparatus for Treating Air," which was designed to humidify or dehumidify air, heating water for the first and cooling it for the second. It should ne noted here that the term "air conditioning" was not coined by Carrier, that honor goes to textile engineer Stuart H. Cramer, who filed a patent application for a device that added water vapor to the air in textile plants in order to "condition" the yarn.

In 1911, Carrier presented his basic Rational Psychometric Formulae to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. This document tied together the concepts of relative humidity, absolute humidity, and dew-point temperature, thus making it possible to design air-conditioning systems to precisely fit the requirements at hand, and remains the basis for all calculations used in the air conditioning industry today.

In 1914, Buffalo Forge decided to drop its air conditioning subsidiary and focus entirely on manufacturing. The following year, Carrier and six other engineers formed Carrier Engineering Corporation, with a stated mission of improving air conditioning technology. In 1921, he patented the centrifugal refrigeration machine, the first practical method of air conditioning large spaces. Three years later, Carrier supervised the installation of three of those chillers at the J. L. Hudson Department Store in Detroit, Michigan, making it the first public building to be air conditioned. In 1925, he supervised the installation of a 133-ton chiller at the Rivoli Theater in New York City, New York, giving rise to the tradition of premiering new movies in the summer months in order to take advantage of people seeking refuge from the summer heat in air conditioned movie houses.

Carrier continued to make improvements to his air conditioning systems, but was never able to reduce the cost enough to make air conditioning practical for the average home owner. That innovation would not come until after his death, which came in New York City on October 7, 1950.


Carrier Corporation

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The Robinson Library >> Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning

This page was last updated on January 02, 2019.