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Where we live: Willis Carrier was the king of cool

By Mary Tobia

It is the middle of July, and the heat is here.

Walking into an air-conditioned room after spending time in the hot outdoors brings us all a sigh of relief.

We have engineer Willis Carrier to thank for that.

Carrier was born in 1876 in New England. He attended Cornell University in New York and that’s where he first attempted creating an air conditioner.

He finally changed the world by the invention of the air conditioner in 1902. His original idea was designed to keep moist air from a printing plant to keep magazine pages from wrinkling. It was built to cool a room and reduce humidity.

It took years before his technology became widespread.

In the 1930s the convenient window air conditioner could be purchased. But only the rich and famous were able to afford such a luxury. Most people at that time were first introduced to air-conditioning in movie theaters. Theaters were one of the first places that the public could enjoy the chilly artificial air.

Eventually air conditioning lost the aura of luxury. Today over 90% of U.S. homes have air conditioning.

Growing up on a small South Dakota farm in the 1950s there was no such thing as an air conditioner for us. To keep our house cooler my mom would pull the shades down on the sunny side of the house to keep the hot sun out. We had one fan and it would be set up by the open windows to pull out the hot air and bring in the cool evening breeze.

I remember my mom talking about when she was growing up in the 1920s before electricity. She told me that homes were built with ventilation in mind. Two windows on two opposite walls so you could have a flow of air. Also, windows were placed lower to the ground so cool air could come in and hot air would rise. She said small towels soaked in cool water, wrung out tight and laid across the back of her neck was her way of cooling down.

Even in our first years of marriage in the 1970s we were without an air conditioner. Our first was a secondhand one originally sold by the WT Grants in Palmerton. That of course, went into our bedroom.

On the really hot nights the kids would grab their sleeping bags or blankets, and they would “camp out” on the floor of our bedroom. We all stayed cool with a little, very loud 5,000 BTU.

Now today we enjoy central air, window air conditioners and even have air conditioners in our cars, imagine that!

The Willis carrier legacy lives on today as the company he founded continues to lead this industry in new reinventions.

So why all this talk about air conditioning? It was exactly 118 years ago today, on July 17, that Willis Carrier designed the first air-conditioning system.

When you feel the cold, blissful air after being outside in the summer heat just take a moment to think of Willis Carrier as being a real cool guy!