Today, the vast majority of American homeowners use an air conditioning system to keep their indoor environment cool and comfortable in hot weather. But did you know that the situation was much different just 50 years ago? Let’s take a brief look back at the history of AC development in the last century and beyond.
Air Conditioning Throughout the Centuries
Human beings have been trying to keep their indoor environments cool since prehistoric times, when hunter-gatherers, already familiar with cave dwelling, started purposefully digging their homes into the ground to take advantage of the naturally stable temperatures just a few feet below the earth’s surface. Over the following centuries, civilizations across the world developed their own unique ways to combat high temperatures. For example, the ancient Egyptians put wet reeds in their windows to cool down the air passing through their homes. The ancient Greeks and Romans used water funneled through aqueduct systems for cooling as well as drinking and bathing, while several Middle Eastern cultures developed the use of cooling towers that concentrated and circulated cool air from natural underground channels. The Victorians used design features such as cross ventilating windows and covered porches to keep their homes cool.
The First Modern Systems
Modern air conditioning technology properly began in 1902 when a man named William Carrier used an electrically powered device equipped with water-cooled coils to control the indoor environment of a New York printing plant. Interestingly, Carrier was actually trying to lower the building’s humidity, not its temperature. Two decades later, he invented something called a centrifugal chiller, which really set the development of AC technology on a forward path. By the 1930’s, air conditioning systems based on Carrier’s inventions were cooling a broad range of commercial properties, including movie theaters, office buildings and department stores.
The Rise of Residential Air Conditioning
Despite the popularity of commercial air conditioning in the first half of the 20th century, few American homes were equipped with an AC system. In fact, in 1965, just 10 percent of all U.S. residences had an air conditioning system installed. Things changed pretty quickly over the next 40 years, as more and more Americans saw the advantages of keeping their indoor environments well-controlled. By 2007, the number of homes equipped with ACs had risen dramatically to 86 percent. Needless to say, it looks like the air conditioner is here to stay.
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