Who Invented Air Conditioning? Four People Who Made It Possible For You To Be Cool

vintage photo of four men's reflections

sepia toned pic of four men's reflections, shoes by the water

Four People Who Made It Possible For You To Be Cool

A hundred years ago, we probably wouldn’t have been here in Central Florida. Except for cotton and sugar plantations, most people couldn’t cope with the high heat and humidity. But because of four people who created some form of air conditioning, the population of Florida and other hot climate states expanded, growing 28-40% from 1950 to 2000.

If you’re grateful to be cool, (in all forms of the phrase,) here are the four people who made it possible. 

Dr. John Gorrie

John Gorrie was a doctor in Florida in 1830. He designed a machine that could produce ice and then blow cool air over the ice to keep his patients cool. It worked. While it took massive amounts of ice, it could bring down the temperature of a room by twenty degrees. l

This machine greatly improved the conditions of patients who could remain cool while ill and healing in hospitals.

John Gorrie patented his invention in 1851. Sadly, a coalition of Northern icemakers who made lots of money shipping ice to the South lobbied against Gorrie and promoted the idea that man should not try to control God’s environment.

Gorrie died penniless but not before laying the foundation work for a system to help keep you cool.

Warren Johnson

You may think you’ve never heard of Warren Johnson and have no idea of how he contributed to the air conditioning that keeps you cool today, but you might recognize the name Johnson Controls.

Warren Johnson was a self-educated guy intensely interested in science and electricity. He landed a job in 1876 with the State Normal School of Wisconsin. While there, he was frustrated by his inability to control the temperature in a classroom. So he set about creating a multi-zone thermostat.

He engineered the bimetal device, an “electric tele-thermoscope,” that worked in conjunction with a series of dampers. In 1883, he patented his device and found financial backing to establish Johnson Electric Service Company.

His invention was used throughout the world in big office buildings, hotels, and hospitals to keep different rooms at different temperatures.

From there, Warren Johnson went on to receive fifty patents on all kinds of inventions: Wireless communications, automobiles, puncture-proof tires, springless door locks, and pneumatic tower clocks. Just to name a few.

He died in 1911, but you can thank him for your ability to keep your bedroom set at a different temperature than your living room.

Schulyer Wheeler

A contemporary of Warren Johnson, Schulyer Wheeler was born in 1860 in New York to an affluent family. Wheeler was educated and interested in technology and electricity. He began his career working with alternating-current lighting systems, including Thomas Edison’s company, before he went into business with Francis B. Crocker, establishing the Crocker-Wheeler Motor Company.

“So what does that have to do with air conditioning?” you might be asking.

While John Gorrie and Warren Johnson were working on inventions that would keep commercial buildings cool, Schulyer Wheeler was interested in efficient machines that would benefit common people.

In 1882, he invented an electric fan.

That may not sound like much to you now one hundred and forty years later, but it was a big deal.

Other than handheld paper fans, transom windows, and sleeping porches, no way existed to cool a person down.

Schulyer Wheeler’s “buzz fan” was the most popular, most affordable, and most common means of cooling a house until after air conditioning units started being mass-produced in the 1950s.  

The electric fan was deemed such an important positive contribution to the quality of human life that it was awarded the John Scott Medal in 1904.

Wheeler was a pretty amazing guy. Not only did he invent the electric fan, but he also championed the training of the visually impaired, invented the electric elevator, and wrote a code of ethics for electrical engineers, just to name a few of his contributions to the world.

Willis Carrier

Read anything about the history of air conditioning and the name Willis Carrier will come up.

Would you believe that Carrier’s connection to the air conditioning industry started because Carrier worked at Sackett-Wilhelms Lithography and Publishing in Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1900s?

The printing house struggled because differences in temperature, humidity, and moisture would alter the size of the papers. When they tried to print with colors, the change in the paper’s dimensions caused the different print runs of various colors to be misaligned.

Willis Carrier designed a system that would cool the air by building on Schulyer Wheeler’s electric fan.

Carrier took an electric fan and blew air over coils filled with cold water and further cooled by an ammonia compressor. It would have taken John Gorrie’s invention 108,000 pounds of ice to maintain the temperature, but Carrier’s invention could keep a constant humidity level of 55 percent every day of every season.

The air conditioning industry was born.

Call us

It’s not hard to be cool today, thanks to these four people who made it possible.

Gorrie. Johnson. Wheeler. Carrier.

ServiceOne carries on the glorious tradition of caring about people, keeping them comfortable, and helping them to stay cool.

Call us for any air conditioning needs you have.

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