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The Beginning of HVAC... Preventing Wrinkles
By: Vanessa M Castro, PMP, CSM

Many of us know (or should know) the beginning of the company we work for- the who, the why, the problem they were trying to solve, and more importantly the drive & passion that has since made them successful. If for whatever reason you do not know that information- please stop reading this article and immediately find out. How can you define your own legacy in your company if you do not know or understand the reason for the beginning of the company you are working for?

Now…back to HVAC. When did it start? What was the problem they were trying to solve? Sometimes the best ideas, and biggest legacy items are created trying to solve a completely different problem. For example, did you know that BubbleWrap was invented by accident? They were trying to create textured wall paper! Go figure – now it provides countless hours of enjoyment, not to mention protection for many of our products. I know what you are thinking….well HVAC was invented to keep people comfortable – that’s why. Well the moment that many of people in the industry refer to as the cornerstone of HVAC, came about because there was a problem with humidity causing magazine pages to wrinkle. That’s right- magazine pages, not people….

So let’s get on with it…Perhaps the earliest beginnings of HVAC can be found in the Greek and Roman Empire, that is after the original invention of fire, and cavemen using fire to keep their houses warm. A temple in Ephesus in 350BCE was heated using a system called hypocaust (Greek Hypo meaning “under” and caust- meaning “burnt”). These systems produce and circulate hot air below the floor of the room. Although the Greek temple was heated this way, the reasoning behind it is still unclear. The first real attributed system of heating under the floor was created for Roman baths. Roman innovator, Sergius Orata, burned fuel in a low chamber area, flues circulated through the walls and floors to heat rooms and areas – which could also be turned into a sauna by adding a pool of water.

Fast forwarding a bit in time, in the 1830s Dr. John Gorrie creates an ice-making machine that used compression to make buckets of ice, and utilizes that same force to blow air over them. He believed that cooling truly was the key to preventing the spread of diseases, and making patients at the hospital more comfortable thus promoting quicker healing. He went as far as patenting the idea in 1851, however, that is as far as he truly got.  the 1840s, physician and inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Florida proposed the idea of cooling cities to relieve residents of "the evils of high temperatures." Gorrie believed that cooling was the key to avoiding diseases like malaria and making patients more comfortable, but his rudimentary system for cooling hospital rooms required ice to be shipped to Florida from frozen lakes and streams in the northern United States. 

On a more depressing note, in summer of 1881 after the assassination of President James Garfield, engineers from the navy were trying to find a way to keep the body cold, and prevent decomposition. They created a box that would be filled with a water-soaked cloth, and more importantly a fan that blows hot air overhead and will keep the cool air closer to the ground. Not that far of an idea – as we now know hot air rises (for the most part!). They determined that the box could lower the temperature by up to 20degF. However, completely unrealistic as it used close to a million pounds of ice in the summer months.

After that, the idea of cooling air really went on the backburner for close to 30 years. That was until Willis Carrier came on board. While working for the Buffalo Forge Company in 1902, Carrier was tasked with solving a humidity problem that was causing magazine pages to wrinkle at Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn. Now we understand the problem, a customer came to a company with money to solve a problem they were having…. Through a series of experiments, Carrier designed a system that controlled humidity using cooling coils and secured a patent for his "Apparatus for Treating Air,” which could either humidify (by heating water) or dehumidify (by cooling water) air. As he continued testing and refining his technology, he also devised and patented an automatic control system for regulating the humidity and temperature of air in textile mills. It wasn't long before Carrier realized that humidity control and air conditioning could benefit many other industries, and he eventually broke off from Buffalo Forge, forming Carrier Engineering Corporation with six other engineers.

At the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, organizers used mechanical refrigeration to cool the Missouri State Building. The system used 35,000 cubic feet of air per minute to cool the 1,000-seat auditorium, the rotunda and other rooms within the Missouri State Building. It marked the first time the American public was exposed to the concept of comfort cooling. A big breakthrough in comfort cooling technology came in the 1920s, when Americans flocked to movie theaters to watch Hollywood stars on the silver screen.  

That is only the beginning, you will have to wait till Q2 when we take these ideas and build on that legacy!



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