Air Conditioning Invention and Inventors Willis Carrier and John Gorrie
John Gorrie and Willis Carrier are two inventors credited for inventing air conditioning. They were not inventors who set out their inventions to change the world, but rather, they were innovators who solved problems out of a need around them. By early 1930, air conditioning was installed in a variety of commercial buildings. It has also become a comfortable innovation in homes.
Dr. John Gorrie (1803-1855)
Scottish-born American John Gorrie was a physician, scientist and inventor, considered the father of refrigeration and air conditioning. He spent his childhood in South Carolina but received his medical education in Fairfield, New York, College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 1833, he moved to Apalachicola, a port city on the gulf coast of Florida. He became a resident physician at two hospitals and was active in the community.
John Gorrie’s Gas Compressor Device
While trying to cool malaria patients at the Apalachicola hospital, Dr. Gorrie devised a system that blew air over basins of ice that were suspended from the ceiling. The temperature of the air decreased for the comfort of his patients.
Later, Gorrie created a machine that compressed gas, forced it through radiated coils, and cooled it by expanding it. The device was patented in 1851, the precursor of refrigeration systems.
Willis Carrier (1876-1950)
Willis Haviland Carrier, born in Angola, New York, was an American engineer and inventor. Known as the father of modern air conditioning, he is credited for inventing the modern air-conditioning by improving the device pioneered by Dr Gorrie to a degree that it became practical.
Carrier operated a color printing machine at the Buffalo Forge company a year after he graduated. He found that the warm temperature in the plant was affecting the final size of the color photos. Humidity had caused the printing paper to alter slightly, enough to make the color prints misalign.
He realized that he needed an environment with a stable temperature, and succeeded in creating one. His system dried and cooled the air inside the company plant by blowing it over two sets of coils, one cooled by artisian well water (cold water) and the other by an ammonia refrigerating compressor. The system worked. It was reliable for maintaining cool temperatures and the right amount of humidity.
Carrier’s First Functional Air Conditioner
His invention was first installed in 1902 at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn. Carrier’s developed machine was the first to perform air conditioning’s four basic functions:
- Clean the air
- Control temperature / cool the air
- Control air circulation and ventilation
- Control humidity
Carrier’s invention was recognized by authorities in 1906, when he received his patent for the “Apparatus for Treating Air”, the same year Stuart Cramer, a North Carolina engineer, coined the term “air conditioning.” In 1915, Carrier and six friends founded the Carrier Engineering Company. He continued to refine and develop the air conditioners. By early 1930, air conditioning was installed in a variety of commercial buildings.
It’s interesting that Willis Carrier, the father of modern air conditioning, continued to live in a stone home outside Syracuse, New York, a beautiful big place surrounded and shaded by trees that provided more than enough natural cooling. He needed no air conditioning.
Addendum to this article (11 March 2011):
It is with gratitude and pleasure that I include a comment from Barbara Bell about this article. I picked it up from Facebook where I shared this piece. Here's her comment: "Tel, the Carrier company is an icon in my family, as my father worked there all his life and my son worked there until recently. The factory in Syracuse has closed and most of it is being torn down. The site is now only a R & D location. Landmarks in the city also include the Carrier Dome (Syracuse University's athletic facility) and Carrier Circle, a major thoroughfare. We all know about Mr. Carrier!" Mrs. Bell is an editor, writer/author, and an artist.
Image: LG A/C, Tel Asiado
Philbin, Tom. The 100 Greatest Inventions of All Time. New York: Citadel, 2003