HVAC, A History: A Timeline of Invention & Innovation

March 12, 2020

CJ the Plumber here, with a new blog on the history of all things HVAC! Don’t worry—this won’t be as dense as Hermione’s Hogwarts, A History—this really is light bedtime reading. Here’s everything you could want to know about how HVAC systems came to be.

Ancient Air Conditioning Techniques

Early cooling methods were quite inventive. Every region had its own way of lowering indoor temperatures—let’s dive right in.

Ancient China: The Hand-Powered Fan

To manufacture a breeze in Ancient China, a man by the name of Huan invented a hand-cranked fan that rotated propeller-like arms when operated. This produced a slight breeze that would cool people down; however, it was more for personal use, not for reducing the temperature throughout an entire space.

Ancient Egypt: The Power Of Evaporation

Dampened towels were hung in the residential doorways of ancient Egyptian homes to create a cooling effect by means of evaporation. When the wind blew through these hanging cloths, a chilled breeze entered the space, reducing the felt temperature within these homes.

Ancient Rome: Circulating Water

In Ancient Rome, indoor climate control was reserved for the uber-wealthy. Aqueducts were used to transport water to city properties; and later, they were routed into the walls of high society homes. These water lines were used to pump water throughout an entire residential property to effectively cool the air. Just as the ancient Egyptians understood—evaporation could be used to reduce temperatures.

The 1700s-1800s

Inventions and innovations on evaporation followed:

  • In 1758, Benjamin Franklin worked alongside John Hadley to prove that evaporating inconstant liquid, over water, had the ability to decrease the temperature of an object to the point of freezing.

  • In the early 1800s, Micheal Faraday, an English inventor tested Franklin and Hadley’s experiment using a volatile liquid that is actually still used in today’s cooling process.

  • Dr. Gorrie, in the 1830s, manufactured the first mechanical cooling appliance. Much like the ancient Egyptian’s method, Dr. Gorrie’s invention pushed air through an ice-water soaked cloth. This mechanism successfully cooled rooms; however, it required an immense amount of ice-water to operate, making this invention less than viable for widespread use. Later, in the 1850s, Dr. Gorrie patented his cooling apparatus and sold them to hospitals, where they were used to control the spread of diseases in treatment centers.

The Modern Air Conditioner

The modern air conditioner that we all know and love was initially invented in 1902 by Willis Carrier. Willis Carrier, much like the Egyptians and Dr. Gorrie, understood that cooling air required a cooling agent and a draft. So, he created a machine that blew air over cold coils, which effectively de-humidified a space, significantly lowering its temperatures.

Carrier’s cooling apparatus was created for industrial use; however, his technology soon became the first in-home air conditioning system. The only issue—it was huge, measuring at seven feet high and twenty feet wide.

In 1920, Carrier created a smaller version of his cooling unit. This iteration allowed department stores, commercial buildings, and railroad cars alike to add air conditioning to their spaces.

The white house then installed indoor climate control in 1930, under President Herbert Hoover.

In 1931, the infamous window air conditioning system was introduced into the marketplace; yet, it was extremely expensive to purchase and install. Additionally, it was incredibly loud to operate. Air conditioning units remained noisy until the late 1950s when rotary compressors were created.

It was not until the 1970s that central air conditioning became commonplace. As years passed, air conditioning units became more energy-efficient to comply with modern environmental laws. Today, the cooling networks we all use and cherish truly originated from all three ancient cooling methods—modern inventors simply learned how to combine them.

‘Til the next cool topic.

CJ The Plumber