HVAC refers to a system of technologies that regulate the temperature, humidity, and purity of air in your home or business. Professional HVAC services provide thermal comfort for the climate and ensure top-notch indoor air quality. While some may take modern amenities like air conditioning for granted, HVAC has a fascinating history that is worthy of recognition.

Ancient Forerunners of HVAC

Humans have sought to regulate the comfort level of indoor spaces for millennia. For example, scientists believe that cavemen determined that air was cooler underground and chose caves accordingly. In addition to protection from predators, caves offered early humans the benefits of natural geothermal temperature regulation.

Once they begin living in civilizations, humans developed other ways to moderate the temperature of indoor air. Ancient Egyptians discovered that hanging wet reeds in windows could cool interiors when moisture evaporated during the hot afternoon breeze. Koreans developed an ondol radiant heating method that used an underground furnace, pipes, and stones to heat houses during the Iron Age. In the third century, a Chinese inventor named Huan created the windmill fan that later became a basis for water-powered energy.

By the classical period, humans engaged in large-scale construction to control indoor air. In Ancient Greece, aqueducts channeled water into cities and provided the basis for heating and cooling pipe systems. During the Roman Empire, engineers routed aqueducts into the walls of villa homes and also developed the hypocaust. Known in Latin as the “hypocaustum,” this invention was a network of vents or air ducts beneath the floors that could move hot or cold air throughout a room. Similarly, engineers in the Middle East built wind towers that caught and circulated cool breezes while diverting hot air out of the building.

The Industrial Revolution’s Furnace, Radiator, and Refrigerator

The Industrial Revolution welcomed a wave of innovations in heating and cooling technology. In 1742, Benjamin Franklin invented the iconic Franklin furnace. Also known as the Franklin stove, this furnace was made from cast iron that absorbed and then radiated heat for hours. The stove burned wood more efficiently than a traditional fireplace and became the predecessor to the modern furnace.

In 1863, Joseph Nason and Robert Briggs used previous furnace models to invent the cast-iron radiator. This radiator used the steam from hot water to heat households. While modern versions of the radiator use aluminum or steel, some historical homes in the northeastern United States still use the traditional cast-iron design.

On the cooler side of things, scientist William Cullen at the University of Glasgow demonstrated the first artificial refrigeration in 1748. Cullen used a pump to create a vacuum over diethyl ether. After lowering the boiling point, the apparatus absorbed heat from its surroundings and even produced a small amount of ice. In 1758, Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley also showed that evaporating inconstant liquid over water could decrease the surrounding temperature to the point of freezing.

These innovations eventually led to the creation of the refrigerator. American inventor Oliver Evans created a blueprint for a refrigeration machine in 1805. Jacob Perkins used the blueprint to create the first closed-cycle compressor in 1834. For this reason, Perkins is known as the “father of the modern refrigerator.”

Dr. John Gorrieā€™s Artificial Ice Machine

Cooling technology underwent further changes in the 1840s. During this decade, Florida physician Dr. John Gorrie began researching ways to keep hospital rooms cool in the state’s hot and humid climate. Gorrie decided to build an apparatus to create ice blocks instead of ordering expensive shipments of ice from colder states.

The physician’s invention consisted of compressed air in pipes or coils as well as a tiny amount of water as the refrigerant. Upon submerging the pipes, the compressed air would expand and lower the temperature of the surrounding water enough to freeze it. A power source like steam could then disperse this cold air and cool down the room. Gorrie received a patent for artificial ice and mechanical refrigeration in 1851. Although the invention remained useful for hospitals, Gorrie’s financial backer died before the pair could release the invention to commercial markets.

Willis Carrier’s First Modern Air Conditioner

The turn of the century marked the rise of the modern air conditioner. In 1888, Nikola Tesla received a patent for the alternating current (AC) motor. This invention made oscillating fans possible. In 1902, engineer Willis Carrier drew upon this invention to create the Apparatus for Treating Air. This apparatus used large fans to circulate air around damp coils. The automated system could either humidify the air by heating water or dehumidify the air by cooling water, and this process could also control temperature and ventilation. The carrier soon formed his own commercial enterprise known as the Carrier Engineering Corporation.

The public’s first introduction to the apparatus was the St. Louis World Fair of 1904. During the fair, a machine circulated over 35,000 cubic feet of cooled air per minute within two floors of the Missouri State Building. In 1906, Stuart Cramer invented a similar machine and officially coined the term “air conditioner.” Willis Carrier continued to tweak his own version by patenting the machine in 1906 and patenting the automatic control system in 1914.

Further developments of the machine took place during the 1920s. In 1920, Willis Carrier officially downsized his cooling unit. This allowed department stores, commercial buildings, upscale apartments, and railroad cars to receive air-conditioning units. Carrier patented the centrifugal chiller for cooling water in 1922. By 1925, Carrier signed a deal with Paramount Pictures to install an air conditioner in the Rivoli Theater in New York City. The White House received air conditioning in 1930 under the administration of President Herbert Hoover.

Post-War Boom’s Window Unit and Central Air Conditioning

Air conditioners continued to downsize as technology improved. In 1930, General Electric developed the self-contained room cooler. This creation inspired H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman to invent the first window air-conditioning unit in 1931.

Although the original device was similar to window units that remain in use today, the 1931 version was fairly expensive to install and loud to operate. Air conditioners remained noisy until Atlas Copco introduced the rotary-screw compressor during the post-war boom of 1957. Just one year prior in 1956, Willis Carrier signed a contract to provide central air conditioning to 700 upper-class homes in Pennsylvania. These developments helped residential HVAC systems become mainstream by the early 1970s.

In the decades that followed, HVAC systems continued to become quieter and more efficient. While most air conditioning units still consist of a condenser, fan, and coils, other innovations continue to customize the technology. For example, some units use an inverter-type compressor to increase efficiency by up to 30%. Other features may include environmentally friendly refrigerants, geothermal heating, or even hybrid heating from solar panels. Today, over 87% of all U.S. households use at least some type of HVAC system.

Consult With Local Professionals

Although it is now hard to imagine a world without HVAC, this technology underwent a long history before becoming what we know and love today. Heating, cooling, and ventilation are all important components that make our interiors habitable. Heating and cooling services are a must for homes in locations like Tampa, Florida. For any and all HVAC needs or just to receive more information, contact us at Air 24/7 Air Conditioning & Heating today.


company icon