Air Conditioning: Then and Now
July 8, 2015
Air conditioning is a luxury many of us take for granted these days, as it is a standard piece of equipment in most U.S. homes now. It has impacted our lives in many ways that we don’t necessarily think about, because most of us are fortunate enough to live in a home with a cooling system. Cooling technology has advanced greatly to improve our comfort and health; let’s take a look at air conditioning, then and now!
Before residential air conditioning, homes were hot. In the heat of the summer, homes were not the comfortable, cool sanctuary they are today. Families slept outside to catch a cool breeze because closed-up homes were too hot. Windows were opened as much as possible to provide some ventilation to the household. Sweating was inevitable, along with body odor. (yuck!)
- It started with Hand Fans. People were limited in ways to keep cool. Hand fans were popular throughout history. In the early 1900s, electric fans first appeared in U.S. homes.
- The air conditioner was finally invented in 1902. The modern air conditioner was invented by Willis Carrier in 1902, and textile mill engineer Stuart Cramer was the first to coin the term “air conditioning” in 1906. Air conditioning was first installed residentially in 1914; the unit was 7 feet high, 6 feet wide, and 20 feet long! Obviously, the size of the system were quite costly and only could be installed where space was ample; wealthy people with large homes were really the only ones who could access it. Early air conditioners cost anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 in their time — $120,000 to $600,000 in today’s dollars!
- The first room air conditioner was invented in 1931. In 1931, H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman invented the first room air conditioner. The unit sat on the ledge of a window, just as modern room air conditioners often do. Even so, these systems were still very expensive. For example, the 1938 Chrysler air conditioner cost $416; the average hourly wage was $0.64, so it took 650 hours of work to be able to afford this purchase.
- It wasn’t until 1970 that AC units made it into most American homes. Post WWII, air conditioning became something of a status symbol. Window units were a hot commodity, with over one million units sold in 1953. In the 1970s, central air conditioning systems made their way into homes, using Freon-12 (also known as R-12) as coolant.
Residential air conditioning has come such a long way in the past 100 years. Early air conditioners were loud, lacked efficiency, and were expensive to operate. Today’s air conditioning manufacturers have taken great strides to develop cooling technology that is efficient and convenient, providing consumers with seemingly endless equipment choices. Air conditioning has also become more environmentally friendly as research has shown that Freon is linked to ozone depletion; currently, R-22 refrigerant is being phased out and environmentally-friendly R401A refrigerant is the new standard.
Air conditioning systems have become much more affordable over the years, leading to their widespread use in American homes. Today, more than 80 percent of homes in the United States have an air conditioning system. The addition of the air conditioner has changed architecture, making it possible to have windowless buildings and dwellings without patios.
Air conditioners save lives
Air conditioning didn’t just change the nation’s comfort — it has also played a significant role in lowering the number of heat-related deaths. Between 1960 and 2004, the number of heat-related deaths in the United States was a staggering 80 percent less than between 1900 and 1959. Air conditioning saves lives, providing respite from dangerous outdoor temperatures.
Want to learn more about air conditioning? Check out our complete air conditioning guide today.