Inventor of the Week Archive
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The air conditioner
One year after earning a master's degree in Electrical
Engineering from Cornell University in 1901, Willis Haviland Carrier (born 1876)
developed and patented the world's first modern air conditioner. Carrier's invention
not only provided comfort at home, but also allowed for the controlled conditions
necessary in many environments: industrial and scientific (as for the production
of many chemicals and pharmaceuticals), and even artistic (as with the protection
of fine art at museums).
Before Carrier's invention, cooling systems were merely elaborate methods
of ventilation (although some progress had been made---for example, by Lewis
Latimer in 1886). But Carrier, with his "Apparatus for Treating Air"
(patent #808,897), created a mechanical means to control both temperature
and humidity, as well as the cleanliness and circulation of air. Carrier's
air conditioner used a low-pressure, centrifugal system to take in air through
a filter, then pass the air over coils containing a stable, non-toxic coolant;
the cooled and dehumidified air was directed into the living or work space,
while the warm air circulating around the machines motor was vented outdoors.
The technology underlying Carrier's invention (his "Rational Psychrometric Formulae"
- 1911) still today forms the scientific basis of all work done in the industry
Carrier continued to refine his theories and his products, receiving several
more patents along the way. In 1915, with $35,000 capital, he co-founded Carrier
Engineering Corporation, which remains today, long after Carrier's death in
1950, the world's largest manufacturer of climate control equipment. Carrier's
air conditioner is an invention without which, on a very practical level,
it would be difficult for us to imagine everyday life.