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The Real Estate Cupboard #107 Archives by Steve Hubbard, Certified Buyer’s Representative

The History of Air Conditioning

A woman called me a few days ago to say she was looking for a little cottage to rent for a month or so this summer and it had to have air conditioning. Although I was not able to help her I sympathize completely. In fact my air conditioning isn’t working right now and I’m considering moving. And I am certain there are many home buyers out there right now who wouldn’t ordinarily consider air conditioning among the features of a prospective home they’d look for and value but because of our incredibly hot and humid weather are thinking about it. And if you are thinking about how nice it would be if the home you buy has either individual air conditioning units or central air you had better look fast. Of the 1027 homes actively on the market for sale right now only 115 have central air and another 75 have individual units; that’s only a measly 190 homes with air conditioning of some kind, less than 20% of those available. I feel hot just thinking about it.

The history of air cooling systems and air conditioning is kind of interesting. It’s all about the cooling effect of the evaporation of water. As early as 3000 BC the Egyptians made ice by placing water in shallow clay trays placed on beds of straw. As a result of rapid evaporation permitted by an environment of declining evening temperatures and dry, temperate climate, the water in the tray and on its sides froze. This principle of evaporation in an environment of low air humidity was put to practical use cooling homes, in many civilizations as early as 2000 BC with what some believe were the world’s first known home air conditioning systems. In Babylon, for instance, the evaporation of water sprayed on floors and walls, in combination with nocturnal cooling, created air cooler than it might otherwise have been. In India grass mats were hung in the openings of the windward side of the house and kept wet throughout the night either by hand or by suspending perforated troughs filled with water above them. Evaporation occurred as a result of warm air hitting the cooler grass mats cooling the temperatures inside the house.

It seems not much progress beyond that simple idea was made for a long time. Even after the advent of electric light and the telephone and as late as the end of the nineteenth century the best we could do was a system used in large restaurants and other public places such as the Madison Square Theater which used four tons of ice each night for cooling. Fans circulated air cooled by passing it through pipes embedded in a mixture of salt and ice.

The term “air-conditioning” was coined by a physicist name Cramer in 1907 in connection with humidity control in textile mills and the moisture content of textiles by adding steam to the atmosphere. And so when a young engineer and inventor, soon to become known as the “father of modern air-conditioning, named Willis Carrier produced the first commercial air conditioner around 1845 we knew what to call it. For a Brooklyn lithographer and printer troubled by changes in ambient temperature and humidity, Carrier modified a conventional steam heater to accept cold water and fan-circulate cooled air. His real break through, though, was his careful calculation and balance of air temperature and airflow so that the system not only cooled air but removed humidity, as well, resulting in yet greater cooling.

Although widespread home air conditioning was to occur much later, by 1919 in Chicago the first air-conditioned movie house opened and the Abraham and Strauss department store was the first to become air conditioned that same year. By 1925 New York’s Rivoli Theater had a Carrier air conditioning system. And just a few years later in 1930 over 300 theaters around the country were giving greater attention to cool air in their advertising and promotion than they were the movies running. Greater productivity in stores and offices was being credited to air conditioning by the 1940s. Employees apparently began coming to work earlier and leaving later in the summer time in order to stay cool just a bit longer. The way I feel right now, I am certain this is true.

Steve Hubbard owns and operates Steve Hubbard Real Estate Services.
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