It is hard for us to imagine life without air conditioning! As a child I’d watch those old movies (generally in a tropical setting) where white folks sat on porches dressed in ridiculously tight clothes up to their chins, totally inappropriate to the heat, and wonder how dumb adults could be.
The first attempt at air conditioning was made in the mid-1800s by John Gorrie, a doctor from Florida, with the original put-ice-in-front-of-a-fan method of cooling.
Which is quite a good concept except, well, in Florida ice was hard to come by, and where there was ice one actually didn’t need air conditioning. So the enterprising doctor invented a compressor to make fake ice. Its power sources were uniquely diverse; water, or sails, or steam or, if all the above failed, a horse. His invention was patented in 1851 but never saw the light of day due to the untimely death of his primary backer.
Notwithstanding, Dr. Gorrie’s goal to rid the world of “the evils of high temperatures” was the first step to today’s air conditioning and refrigeration. After a hiatus of fifty years Willis Carrier, an engineer from Buffalo, was hired by Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn to solve the humidity problem that caused magazine pages to wrinkle. His system of controlling humidity with cooling coils, or “Apparatus for Treating Air” not only solved the wrinkled paper dilemma, it would be used to cool other industries as well.
The first time the general public came in contact with the “apparatus” was during the St. Louis World’s Fair, in 1904, to cool the Missouri State Building, with 35,000 cubic feet of air per minute.