Who Really Invented Air Conditioning: Exploring the Mastermind Behind It All

Written by Patrick MacFarland
Published: November 10, 2023
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There is a great belief by many that we often take advantage of the world we live in and the comforts we have. Those who are lucky to live in the more modernized and technologically advanced countries have certain comforts that we assume will always be there. Take Wi-Fi, for instance. If the internet all of a sudden stops working, many people will be up in arms trying to fix it. But there are people out in the world who don’t even know what the internet is or don’t have it.

When it comes to inventions that are an everyday pleasure for millions of people living in the US, we never think that people lived without that certain invention for their entire lives. When summer hits, all we can think about is being in an air-conditioned environment. We don’t think that air conditioning is a relatively new invention. The question is, who really invented air conditioning? We’re going to explore the mastermind behind it all and go into detail on what air conditioning is and other fun facts.

What Is Air Conditioning?

Air conditioner inside the room with woman operating remote controller. / Air conditioner with remote controller

Although A/C was invented in 1902, air conditioning units became widespread starting in the 1970s.

©Butsaya/Shutterstock.com

First off, let’s start out by defining what air conditioning is. In simple terms, air conditioning is the process of cooling or maintaining a temperature in a certain indoor place, whether that is an office, a classroom, a home, or an entire building. Air conditioning can be achieved through passive techniques or a mechanically powered apparatus. Today, the more popular way to achieve air conditioning or cooling is through powered systems. There are calls to improve how air conditioning is powered to save the environment.

Three Impacts of A/C

Happy family resting under air conditioner on beige wall at home

Air conditioning has changed how people deal with heat because as they are accustomed to the cooling of A/C, their tolerance to heat decreases.

©New Africa/Shutterstock.com

Air conditioning has revolutionized the world. It has led millions of people to become dependent on cooler environments during summer. However, air conditioning has had several impacts on certain aspects of our lives. Let’s explore these three impacts briefly.

Population

Air conditioning has had profound effects on the population in the United States. With the advent of widespread use of air conditioning, the mortality rate decreased during the summer because air conditioning cooled the environment and lowered the risk of death during heat waves. The population in certain parts of the country also increased, partly because of how air conditioning lowered mortality rates in hotter parts of the US.

Health

The health of people has greatly increased or recovered with the use of widespread air conditioning. People in the US can die of heat stroke or dehydration, but air conditioning in homes has largely improved people’s chances of dying from that. Air conditioning has also led to the filtration of air, which means that the air people breathe is now cleaner and safer than most environments. This specifically has helped people who have allergies or have mold in their houses.

Environmental

Whereas air conditioning has improved the population decline and has improved the health issues of people, it has not made things better for the environment. Air conditioning units have hurt the environment, which includes a reduction in the ozone layer and being a great contributor to climate change.

As of 2023, 20% of the world’s energy consumption is from air conditioning, and that has ensured the uptick in climate change issues throughout the globe. There are alternatives that the United Nations has advocated for, including technologies that are more sustainable and that are greener. Passive cooling or passive ventilation are two techniques that have been circled as possible ways to use air conditioning and reduce environmental impacts.

Who Invented Air Conditioning?

A young Asian air conditioner technician or air-conditioning installation technician is about to repair air conditioning in homes and buildings.

The first air conditioners that were introduced to the public cost a whopping $150,000 to $600,000 in today’s dollars.

©BELL KA PANG/Shutterstock.com

There is only one “Father of Air Conditioning” and his name is Willis Carrier. But before we delve into his invention and the man who made it happen, we will explore discoveries related to air conditioning before Willis Carrier created something that revolutionized the world.

Prehistoric Times

The first air conditioner type of equipment was invented around 180 A.D. by a Chinese engineer named Ding Huan. It was a manually powered rotary fan that had seven wheels. Someone had to turn a wheel to spin the fan. Also, Ancient Egyptians had passive techniques of air conditioning that cooled buildings. Those spread throughout North Africa, Southern Europe, and the Middle East. These passive air conditional techniques were popular throughout time.

Pre-20th Century Discoveries

As technology advanced and people’s minds were piqued with coming up with the newest things, the ability to create a more robust air conditioning system came along. During the 1550s, Italian scientist Giambattista della Porta discovered that if one added salt to ice, it could make temperatures drop. Fast forward to 1620 and Dutch engineer Cornelis Drebbel decreased the temperature of part of Westminster Abbey using the same technique from della Porta.

Benjamin Franklin, one of the greatest inventors of all time who had great influence over the invention of electricity, also had his hand in coming up with cooling experiments. Over time, this led to the discovery of ice-making machines, but it paved the way for a vision of an apparatus that could cool down buildings.

Willis Carrier

All of these discoveries led to one thing: the vision of air conditioning and how to do it in a building. Willis Carrier, born November 26, 1876, was an engineer who was a recent graduate from Cornell University. He answered the call from a publishing company in New York that needed to improve air quality in their building. The reason? It was so hot that summer that the quality of the ink and images on the paper was really bad. Carrier came up with sketches that would prove to be the first designs for an air conditioning system. These drawings led him to perfect this air conditioning apparatus into what it is today. He patented it and created a company to build the systems.

Air conditioning became popular and more widespread over the decades, although there was a slump during the Great Depression. Carrier also went abroad and marketed his air conditioning systems in Japan, Korea, and Europe. Carrier’s company remains one of the top air conditioning manufacturers in the world. Willis Carrier passed away on October 7, 1950, at the age of 73. It wasn’t until the 1970s, after Carrier’s death, that air conditioning became more affordable and able to be available in more people’s homes or company buildings. 

Conclusion

The white house of the USA during a cloudy autumn day

Air conditioning was first installed in the Oval Office in late 1929.

©Andreas Reps/Shutterstock.com

And there you have it, Willis Carrier is the mastermind behind the invention of air conditioning. Although others discovered some form of cooling before him, Willis Carrier was the one who created the air conditioning system we use today. Air conditioning is now a popular piece of equipment in many households throughout the developed world. Air conditioning is so popular that there are hordes of people who can’t imagine a world without it. Their heat tolerance has decreased.

Once summer hits, millions of people around various countries will yearn to turn on their air conditioning units. They may include you. So, as you turn on that switch to cool yourself down, think about the people who made advancements in cooling and air conditioning. Those advancements led to Willis Carrier inventing the air conditioner. Let’s thank Willis Carrier for his life-changing invention.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © DimaBerlin/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Patrick Macfarland is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering travel, geography, and history. Patrick has been writing for more than 10 years. In the past, he has been a teacher and a political candidate. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from SDSU and a Master's Degree in European Union Studies from CIFE. From San Diego, California, Patrick loves to travel and try new recipes to cook.

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