The Changing Face of Air Conditioning

Many people have been turning up the air conditioning to keep cool during the recent heatwave. The hottest day of 2018 so far was recorded in Suffolk on 23rd July – 33.3°C

According to scientists, we’re experiencing hotter summers and wetter and warmer winters. Extreme weather conditions are happening more often and the general consensus is that climate change is being caused by emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide.

Today, there’s a growing demand for air conditioning, controlling the temperature indoors by the convenient flick of a switch. Prior to the invention of air conditioning in the early 20th century, people tried all kinds of things to keep themselves cool during hot spells.

Air Conditioning


Early cooling systems

Legend has it that the Roman emperor Elagabalus sent his slaves into the mountains to carry down snow and place it in his garden, in the hope the wind would carry cool breezes inside his house. Needless to say, this didn’t go well.

Experiments into the principles of air conditioning systems had taken place as early as 1758, when American scientist and inventor Benjamin Franklin and Cambridge University professor John Hadley explored using evaporation as a means of rapidly cooling an object.

They concluded it was possible to use the evaporation of highly volatile liquids, such as ether and alcohol, to reduce the temperature of an object to below freezing. They conducted the experiment using the bulb of a mercury thermometer.

Franklin noted that after they had passed 0°C, the freezing point of water, a film of ice formed on the bulb. This led him to conclude that it may even be possible for a person to freeze to death on a hot summer’s day!


The “Ice King”

In the 19th century, Boston businessman and entrepreneur Frederic Tudor pioneered an international trade in ice. He earned the nickname, “Ice King”, after founding the Tudor Ice Company. He made his fortune shipping ice from New England in insulated containers to ports in warmer climates, such as the Caribbean and India.

As a Harvard-educated graduate and the son of a wealthy Boston lawyer, Tudor started trading in ice at the age of 23, in 1806. The insulating material was sawdust, which was free, being a waste-product of the lumber industry.

He bought a brig (a type of sailing ship) and transported his first load of ice to Martinique in the West Indies. Although inevitably some of the ice melted en route, he managed to sell much of what remained. His business was successful and at the time of his death, aged 80, in February 1864, he was a wealthy man.

However, although ice was commonly used for preserving food, it had its limitations in terms of cooling a room because, of course, it melted – as Emperor Elagabulus had discovered!



19th-century experiments

English inventor and scientist Michael Faraday did further experiments in 1820, leading him to discover that compressing, liquefying and evaporating ammonia would chill the air.

Florida physician John Gorrie created ice using compressor technology in 1842. He used it to cool the air in his hospital in Apalachicola, Florida, to make a more pleasant environment for his patients. In 1851, Gorrie was granted a patent for his ice-making machine, but never received the financial backing he required.

It was rumoured the Ice King had started a smear campaign against Gorrie, fearing manufactured ice would damage his business. Gorrie died in 1855 and his dream never came to fruition.

James Harrison, an Australian pioneer in mechanical refrigeration, invented a mechanical ice-making machine in 1851 and it went into operation at Rocky Point in Geelong.

He was granted a patent in 1855 for his ether vapour compression refrigeration system. He enjoyed commercial success and launched a second ice company in 1860 in Sydney.

It was reported that Madison Square Theatre, in New York, used four tons of ice per day in the summer of 1880, with an 8ft wide fan blowing air over the ice and wafting it through ducts towards the audience during performances.


First air conditioning system

The first genuine air conditioning system was invented in 1902 by American inventor Willis Carrier. However, it wasn’t as a result of trying to set a comfortable temperature for people’s homes.

At the time, Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Printing Company in New York was having problems with fluctuating humidity levels, making it difficult to print in colour. The paper had to be printed four times to achieve the correct colour, but if the humidity changed between the print runs, the paper would contract or expand, leaving the colours misaligned.

Carrier graduated from Cornell University and started experimenting with air conditioning in an effort to solve Sackett-Wilhelms’ problem. He worked out that humidity could be maintained at a constant 55% by circulating air over coils chilled by compressed ammonia.

His invention improved the manufacturing process in the printing plant, cooling the air and controlling the humidity. Over time, his technology became widely used, increasing productivity in the workplace.

This was a rather more catchy title than the original name for his invention – “apparatus for treating air”. The term “air conditioning” was coined by textile mill owner Stuart Cramer, of Charlotte, in 1906.


20th-century developments

Among the early customers were flour mills and the Gillette corporation, where the razor blades went rusty due to excessive moisture.

The first house to have air conditioning installed was owned by Minneapolis resident Charles Gates – son of pioneering barbed wire manufacturer John Warne Gates. Sadly, Gates Jnr died in 1913, before the air conditioning was completed.

Air conditioners were installed in the United States House of Representatives in 1928. In the ensuing years, the Senate, the Supreme Court and the White House followed suit.

Over the years, technology has advanced immensely. In the early days, air conditioning units used flammable or toxic gases, such as methyl chloride, ammonia, or propane. The first non-toxic, non-flammable chlorofluorocarbon gas, freon, was created in 1928 by Thomas Midgley Jnr – an American chemical and mechanical engineer.

Window unit air conditioners were invented after World War II and sales escalated rapidly from 74,000 in 1948, to one million in 1953.

Modern refrigerants, developed in the second half of the 20th century, are safer and more environmentally friendly than their predecessors. Today, manufacturers favour ozone-friendly and climate-safe refrigerants.

Air conditioning has many benefits, apart from making people feel more comfortable indoors during hot weather. A 2014 study, The Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, found productivity peaked at temperatures between 18°C and 22°C, so it followed that air conditioning in the workplace would be beneficial.


Fan coil units

Klima-Therm offers a wide variety of air conditioning products, including high-quality fan coil units. We have partnered with reputable manufacturers, such as Eurapo and Rhoss, to bring to the UK market a reliable and highly-efficient range of fan coil units.

Eurapo’s products are known for their energy efficiency, tough materials, compliance with the strictest standards in terms of performance, special attention to safety and easy installation.

Rhoss has produced a product designed for the future, with a renewed range that is in line with technological advances. The ducted fan coils encased in a cabinet use climate control to enhance the quality of the internal environment, providing innovative solutions, such as the Air’Suite® biocide filter.

Please contact us on 020 8971 4195 for further information on our range of systems.