On this day in economic and business history…
The dog days of summer are here, but most of you will be reading this where the temperature is almost always in the mid-70s (or about 22 degrees Celsius, for our international readers). If that’s the case, you can thank Willis Carrier, an air-conditioning pioneer who founded the Carrier Engineering Corporation on June 26, 1915. Carrier was not the first person to develop air conditioning — prototypes had been displayed at the St. Louis World’s Fair and installed in the New York Stock Exchange building a decade earlier — but his contributions are widely credited with the development of modern air-conditioning systems, which can accurately control temperature, humidity, circulation, and air quality through mechanical means.
Willis Carrier first developed a humidity-control system in 1902, and this first invention, patented in 1906, helped inform later work on air-conditioning systems. Carrier made a critical breakthrough in understanding humidity in 1906, the same year he received his first patent. This discovery formed the basis of his first true air-conditioning patent (granted in 1914), as well as his discipline-defining 1911 research document on psychrometrics, an engineering discipline primarily concerned with humidity that informs both air conditioning and meteorology.
Carrier and his business partners gained a number of contracts within months, as temperature and humidity control were essential in the manufacture of advanced munitions for the European forces fighting World War I. Carrier Engineering continued to grow after the war, its international expansion no doubt aided by the recognition and goodwill generated by its wartime work. Four years after the war’s end, Carrier unveiled the breakthrough that eventually brought air conditioning to billions of homes and offices around the world. The Carrier Engineering history site has the details:
In May 1922, Willis Carrier unveiled his single most influential innovation, the centrifugal refrigeration machine (or “chiller”). Over the next decade, the centrifugal chiller would extend the reach of modern air conditioning from textile mills, candy factories and pharmaceutical labs to the revolutionary work of ensuring human comfort in theaters, stores, offices and homes.
Powered by these innovations [including an advanced heat exchanger as well as the chiller], Carrier launched its own version of “the Roaring Twenties” in 1924 with the first in a series of historic installations. The J.L. Hudson Company, Detroit’s largest department store, installed three, 195-ton centrifugal chillers. Officially classified as comfort air conditioning, Willis Carrier noted, the installation was also designed “to meet an emergency as temperatures soared on basement bargain days — people fainted.” Other sophisticated retailers in Seattle, Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas and New York City soon followed.
By the late 1920s, Carrier had brought comfortable cool to movie theaters, skyscrapers, banks, office buildings, Naval warships, and even a few well-to-do households. The Crash of 1929 did not leave Carrier unscathed, but the allure of air conditioning was simply too powerful to let the company sink. In time, many of the world’s buildings and automobiles would be equipped with air conditioning. Carrier became part of United Technologies Corporation (NYSE:UTX) in 1979. Today, as the key component of United Technologies’ climate and security segment, Carrier contributes nearly 30% of the company’s annual revenue. Between its Carrier and Otis Elevator businesses, United Technologies Corporation (NYSE:UTX) is likely the one component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEXDJX:.DJI) most responsible for enabling today’s modern high-rise office culture.
Big “G” for the first time