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Air Conditioning: The Secret History

Impress Your Friends and Colleagues with These Air Conditioning Anecdotes

“Somehow, it was hotter then. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon after their three o’clock naps. And by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating and sweet talcum.” -To Kill a Mockingbird 

Harper Lee perhaps described best the world before air conditioning in her classic novel about growing up in the South of the Great Depression. Her home in the fictional town of Maycomb was sweltering like much of the country in the summer of 1932. People cooled themselves with paper fans and glasses of lemonade. If you lived in a state like Alabama where temps regularly exceeded 100 degrees, you were plain out of luck during the summer months. While the wealthy could afford an electric fan or two, the summer months were slow moving for just about all North Americans outside the permafrost.

HVAC Comes to the White House

heating and cooling
One of the first air conditioners was used for President Garfield’s bedroom.

Until the invention of efficient HVAC systems, that is. In the previous century,  inventors had come close to a practical implementation of the idea. The soon to be late President James Garfield struggled with a high fever from a gunshot wound while in the White House. U.S. naval engineers created a makeshift air conditioner for the sweaty and miserable Commander in Chief. This device blew fans over a block of ice and then into his sickroom, lowering the ambient temperature by a reported 20 degrees. He died, but the technology remained, albeit expensive and difficult to maintain.

Cooling Off at the Movies

While a novelty and in some wealthy homes, only in 1922 did young engineer Willis Carrier build an air conditioning system that included the first centrifugal chiller, complete with a central compressor. This air conditioning unit made its premier at the Rivoli Theater in New York City, delighting audiences with chilled air as they watched their favorite movies. Indeed, the idea of relaxing on a hot summer day at the theater came about as a result. The studios happily obliged, scheduling the release of all their biggest films during those months.

Air Conditioning for Everyone

For a long time, effective ac installation replacement remained out of reach for all but the wealthiest Americans. Its cost ranged, in 2016 real dollars, from $120,000 to beyond $600,000 for a basic installation. The Packard limousine also came with a unit, but to turn it off, a driver would have to physically remove a compressor belt. As of 1965, according to data by the Carrier Corporation, only 10% of U.S. homes had advanced HVAC systems. Luckily for all of us, however, systems became more cost efficient over time. By 2007,  more than 86% of American households enjoyed cooler air with their home HVAC system. As temperatures and disposable income rise worldwide, experts anticipate that number to only increase over time.

Don’t turn back the clock in your home: keep your HVAC system running clean and at maximum power with Air-Tro’s maintenance services. Call us today to schedule your service at 626-357-3535.