You are no doubt reading this in the cool comfort of your home, auto, or office. For that comfort you can thank Willis Carrier.
To go back a ways and start the Carrier story off right, you should know the first of the Carrier clan in America was a political refugee from England who assumed the name “Thomas Carrier” when he arrived in Massachusetts in 1663. Thomas married Martha Allen and they together produced two sons.
Mrs. Carrier was involved in an unpleasant dispute over real estate with the town fathers in Andover, Massachusetts. The result of the dispute was that she was accused of being a witch. Her two sons aged 10 and 13 were hung by their heels until they testified that their mother was a witch! On August 19th 1692, she was arrested, convicted and hanged on Salem’s Gallows Hill.
A few generations later, Willis Carrier was born on November 26th 1876 in Angola, New York. Willis earned an academic scholarship to Cornell University. As was common at the time, the scholarship only covered the cost of tuition. He earned is living expenses mowing lawns, tending furnaces and waiting tables.
In his senior year at Cornell, his entrepreneurial spirit showed itself when he formed a “cooperative student laundry agency”. This was the first student “co-op” on a university campus.
Carrier received the “Degree of Mechanical Engineer in Electrical Engineering in 1901. After graduation he went to work for The Buffalo Forge Company. His assignments were in the design and manufacture of fans used for the drying of wood and coffee as well as forced draft blowers for industrial boilers. For his efforts he was earning the respectable sum of ten dollars a week!
Soon after beginning work Carrier realized that the data available to engineers was not sufficient to design and build quality machines. He wrote that this lack of data resulted in “factors of safety” that he said should correctly be called “factors of ignorance”. An engineering challenge brought to the 25 year old Carrier in spring of 1902 would be the spring board for the creation of new industry and for comfort in the modern world. The World’s First Air Conditioner!
The Sackett-Wilhelms Publishing Company in Brooklyn had a problem. They had installed a printing press that was among the largest in the world. It could hold giant rolls of paper that sped across the press at speeds never before seen.
The machine had but one imperfection. With summer came humidity. When the humidity was high the moisture in the air was absorbed by the paper increasing its thickness beyond the machines ability to function. It was Carriers assignment to design a machine to dehumidify the press room.
The system installed by Carrier was a huge success, though an unintended consequence was discovered. In the process of dehumidification, the press room became very cool. And the pressman loved it!
The pressroom had long been the most hostile of environments at publishing facilities. It was an uncomfortable place to be avoided everywhere in the world except at Sacket-Wilhelms Publishing. In their pressroom you could find the writers, the sales people, the editor and even the publisher himself. It was cool and comfortable. And a new industry was born….air conditioning!
Not only could air conditioning make equipment work better, it helped people to work better! Soon there would be air conditioning installed in banks and other business. Not since the light bulb had an invention so dramatically impacted people’s ability to do work.
All work and no play makes for a dull and depressed worker. The indoor entertainment of the early 1900’s was found in theaters. However, due to heat and humidity most theaters were closed in summer. When Carrier began installing air conditioning in theaters, rather than be closed in summer, they were the great escape for the over-heated masses. It was also most people’s first introduction to air conditioning. And then they wanted it in their homes!
When you slip between the cool sheets this hot and humid evening, give thanks to Willis Carrier. For not only does his invention of air conditioning keep you comfortable in summer, it makes Florida real estate valuable and print newsletters and magazines possible. Thank you Willis Carrier.