THROWBACK THURSDAY: First Air-Conditioned Building

Can you imagine working today, when it’s nearly 100 degrees, in a building without air-conditioning? More than a century ago, those were the steamy conditions under which people had to carry out their office jobs.

Though the term “air conditioning” was not coined until the early ’40s, on July 17, 1902, the air in the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographic and Publishing Company in Brooklyn, NY was both cooled and dried by willis_carrier_with_1st_chillerblowing it past coils of cool water. But the system created by a young engineer, Willis Haviland Carrier, was for paper, not people – the management at Sackett-Wilhelms had found that their printing paper was expanding in the heat and humidity, and was unable to take ink. It was for this problem that Carrier invented air-conditioning.

It wasn’t long before Carrier realized that humidity control and air conditioning could benefit many other industries, and he eventually formed Carrier Engineering Corporation with six other engineers. In 1911 Willis Carrier presented to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers the “Rational Psychometric Formula” which is still used today by the air conditioning industry.

In 1904, nearly 20 million astonished visitors to the St. Louis World’s Fair were introduced   to the modern marvel known as manufactured air. After their introduction to the public, air conditioners began to be installed in industrial buildings such as printing plants, pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, textile mills, and some hospitals. In Minneapolis in 1914 the first home was air conditioned. It was owned by Charles Gates, son of notorious gambler John Bet a Million  Gates.

air central parkFrom 1917 to 1930 movie theaters were the next focus of the industry, giving the average person their first taste of air conditioning. The first known theater to use refrigeration was the New Empire Theatre in Montgomery, Alabama in 1917. That same year, the Central Park Theater in Chicago was designed to use the new technology which quickly became hugely popular and caused the summer attendance to increase immensely.

In 1928, the Milam Building in San Antonio, Texas was the first high-rise air-conditioned office building in the United States. The air-conditioning design team was led by Willis Carrier. The system provided 300 tons of refrigeration capacity with chilled water, piped to air-handling fans serving all floors. The original unit was updated in 1945 and further modernized in 1989.milam_building

Air conditioning actually has roots in second century China, where an inventor named Ding Huane crafted a manually powered rotary fan. The concept of air cooling also intrigued the great American inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin, who in 1758 conducted experiments with evaporation and alcohol to attain freezing temperatures.

Interesting Air Conditioning Facts:

  • The First Residential Air Conditioner Was Over 7 Feet High, 6 Feet Wide and 20 Feet Long
  • The First White House Air Conditioner, installed during Herbert Hoover’s administration, cost $30,000 (the equivalent of $437,000 today)
  • Lack of Air Conditioning Gave Us Summer Vacations – Due to the lack of air conditioning in summer, schools and businesses would shut down for the summer. The tradition continues today, and in most European countries workers still receive about a month off of work.
  • Air Conditioning Gave Us Summer Blockbusters – Before air conditioning units became affordable for residential homes, one of the only places to take advantage of air conditioning were movie theaters. As a result, production companies and marketers saved their best films for the summer months, giving rise to the Summer Blockbuster. 
  • Most Homes Did Not Have Air Conditioning Until the 1970s