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The intriguing past and important future of air conditioning technology

It sounds incredible, at first glance. You mean we can control the weather, make it hotter or cooler at will? As the saying goes, ‘advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’!

While we’re all familiar with air conditioning as a modern piece of technology, it must’ve been a different story entirely when it was first invented. From fans to theatres, quite a lot went on.

Today we’re taking a step back to that time. Air conditioning has changed and shaped the world to where we are today, and its impact on industry, the home, and the environment are profound.

Where it all began

Antecedents: The thing that exists before, and logically leads to, another thing. Ice houses to commercial freezers. Tomato to ketchup. Fans to air conditioning units.

Interestingly, the antecedent for AC units as we know them comes from second century China. Inventor Ding Huane created a rotary fan that was as innovative as it was cumbersome. No fewer than seven wheels were involved in the contraption, and it needed human power to operate. Close, but no cigar.

Who’s up next? Benjamin Franklin, of course!

While it’s a stretch to say the American Founding Father ‘invented’ the tech, he and renowned chemist John Hadley tested the theory way back in 1758. According to legend, Ben noticed that the breeze flowing into his hot room felt cooler when wearing a shirt damp with his sweat – lovely!

It mattered, though. In tandem with John Hadley, they went to work. After testing different liquids in their lab, they ultimately discovered that evaporation of a liquid causes heat loss: the cornerstone of air conditioning as we know it. They also noticed that blowing on a liquid caused it to cool faster – another vital aspect of AC many units today.

Now you’re in New York

Let’s skip ahead to New York in 1902, when the first genuine air conditioning unit was invented.

It had nothing to do with creature comfort, as a matter of fact! Sacket & Wilhelms, an established lithographing and printing company in the area, were getting angry. Angry at the varying temperature in their factory – specifically, the shrinking and expanding properties of ink under even slightly varying temperatures.

Enter Willis Carrier, an employee of heating company Buffalo Forge. His solution of circulating air over coils that were chilled by compressed ammonia immediately showed promise, helping solve the frustrated printing company’s problems by maintaining a smooth 55% humidity in the factory.

It didn’t take long to catch on. Soon other large clients like Gillette were customers of Buffalo Forge, benefiting from the new tech which stopped their razor blades from rusting due to excessive moisture caused by high humidity.

Cool story

Notice a theme? These business types weren’t worried about temperature!

It wasn’t until four years later in 1906 that the comfort aspect of the tech was even considered. It quickly showed merit; particularly in busy cities, discerning shoppers or theatre-goers were often shut off from their hobbies during the hot summers, and theatres suffered from a lack of windows, hot, flare-based lighting and the humid press of many people sitting together.

Not fun, and in need of a solution. Ice, as we talked about in our recent blog, was popular but limited in its use here, despite establishments like the Madison Square Theatre using four tons a day to blow cool but irritatingly damp air over its audiences.

Carrier, being the young genius he was, eventually won the public over with the Carrier Room Weathermaker. Theatres were first to benefit from earlier versions of the tech, becoming attractions as much for the cooled interior as the shows themselves!

Hot homes and cool heads

By 1914 the first residence had a unit installed, although it wasn’t until some years later that the world-changing devices became commonplace: Fortune magazine at the time printed an article calling Carrier’s units ‘a prime public disappointment of the 1930s’.

Funny, then, that there have been good arguments made that air conditioning got American president Ronald Reagan elected! America’s ‘sun belt’ that stretched throughout its southern States saw a boom in population as air conditioning units became widespread, but there was a twist: the influx was mostly from families and couples retiring to the South from the North.

Those more elderly citizens changed the political landscape, as the majority were Conservatives. When the time for Ronald Reagan to compete for the presidency came in 1980, he won in part due to this ‘sun belt bloc’ of conservative voters – voters who wouldn’t have been there without their air conditioning units. Fancy that!

A changing world ahead

The conundrum we face in the air conditioning business hasn’t changed, and it’s all the more relevant now: AC units cool the inside by warming the outside.

They’re undeniably important. Cooler, more regulated temperature lowers mortality rates during heatwaves, and students study best at temperatures between 18C and 22C. The benefits to society are far-reaching.

The planet, however, needs attention too. HVAC technology is facing the global challenge before us head-on, with Royale and others like us worldwide adapting to the threat with greener units and technology. We know the demand isn’t going anywhere; experts predict an eightfold increase in global energy consumption by as little as 2050, with a drastic increase in HVAC demand in countries like China, Brazil and India.

As we move into 2019 with climate change dominating our headlines for the right reasons, it’s encouraging to look back at how far the technology has come since the humble days of manual fans and ice-cooled interiors.

If we’ve made it that far, the Royale family is confident we can work that same magic again and come to enjoy a sustainable planet with fridges and air conditioners that respect the environment while keeping us cool!

Thanks for stopping by

Lesson over! Interesting information, we hope, on a worthy subject. To learn more about what we do, call the team on 01635 551446 or email us at [email protected].