The History of Modern Air Conditioners

AC gauges hanging on a refrigerant container next to a modern air conditioner

As Florida residents, many of us use our air conditioning systems regularly but rarely take the time to consider how this life-altering invention developed into the high-tech piece of equipment that it is today. For more than a century, developers and engineers have worked to improve the air conditioner. Here, we take a look at the history of the modern air conditioner and how it came to be today’s sophisticated machine.

Original Invention

The first unit that resembled our modern HVAC units was invented by a man named Willis Haviland Carrier in 1902. The system was originally invented for use in a printing plant so that the temperature of the air and the humidity could be properly regulated not only for the comfort of the workers, but also for the optimal operation of the machinery. The Carrier company was formed shortly thereafter but air conditioning units were not widely used in homes until the 1950s. Of course, since then, things have certainly come a long way.

Advancing Technology

The first air conditioners created by Carrier and a select few other inventors used toxic chemicals and incredibly flammable gases to cool the air, and this meant that widespread residential use was truly limited. Thus, in the year 1928, a man by the name of Thomas Midgely, Jr. developed the first chlorofluorocarbons for use as refrigerants in air conditioners. These CFCs were purchased by the DuPont company and marketed under the name Freon. This was the standard coolant used in air conditioners for many years.

Phasing Out Freon

While Freon was a much safer alternative for use in air conditioners than the chemicals used previously, some studies during the 1970s showed that the coolant was directly responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer. As such, more harmful UV rays were reaching the surface of the earth and something had to be done. The government eventually took action and the result was that CFCs like Freon were completely phased out and are no longer in use today. Of course, they were replaced with newer refrigerants that are not responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer.

Today’s Modern Units

With more efficient technologies and greener coolants being used in air conditioners, consumers have more options available to them than ever before. The U.S. Green Council works hard with HVAC system developers directly to help reduce the carbon footprint of the machines as well as to improve their efficiency, which not only helps to reduce the amount of fossil fuels that are used, but also helps consumers save money on energy costs. Today, most HVAC manufacturers follow what is known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEEDs, standards. Because of this, consumers and business owners alike can enjoy safe, efficient heating and cooling systems.

The history of the air conditioner isn’t a complicated one, but it is quite evident that manufacturers, engineers and others have worked tirelessly to create products that save us money and protect our environment. It can be anticipated that even more efficient systems will be developed as time goes on, allowing us to enjoy our comfort during the hot Florida summers without breaking the bank.