Skip to content

Have you Ever Wondered, “What was Life Like Before Air Conditioning?”

Have you Ever Wondered, “What was Life Like Before Air Conditioning?”

Nearly 100 million American homes have some sort of air conditioning.

In our warmer months, in Buffalo, NY, we seek air conditioning for relief from the heat. Air conditioning is something that used to be considered a luxury and now seems more like something that is essential. It’s hard to imagine a life when sitting in a doctor’s office or eating at a restaurant at 90s degrees was normal. It makes you stop and think; “What was life like before air conditioning?”

Air Conditioning Today

Today, we don’t have to worry about what life was like before air conditioning, because most homes and businesses have some source of AC. By the late 1960s, most new homes had central air conditioning, and window air conditioners were more affordable than ever, leading to now nearly 100 million American homes having some sort of air conditioning, representing 87 percent of all households, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Currently, the United States uses the most electricity on AC in the world. It would be uncommon to walk into a store or office building and not feel that cool non-humid air that air conditioning provides. In fact, air temperature is so important to us that 48 percent of all energy consumption in American homes is a result of cooling and heating, according to the Energy Information Administration.

What was Life Like Before Air Conditioning?

Before air conditioning, less people lived in warm weather states, like Arizona and Florida, because they couldn’t escape the heat. Printing companies were struggling to print and publish newspapers and books due to the humidity causing swelling pages and blurry prints. Food being produced in factories was stale before it even hit the shelves. People who suffered from a heat related illness had no where to find relief.

Life before air conditioning was much different than it is today; however, most people never dreamed of having a cooling system in their home. While heat was thought to be a necessity, the idea of a cooling system was a completely different beast.

Brief History of Air Conditioning

To answer, “What was life like before air conditioning?”, we need to understand where air conditioning came from. Energy.gov has provided a brief insight into the history of air conditioning.

The Idea of the Air Conditioner

In 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. His rudimentary system for cooling hospital rooms required ice to be shipped to Florida from frozen lakes and streams in the northern United States.

To get around this expensive logistical challenge, Gorrie began experimenting with the concept of artificial cooling. He designed a machine that created ice using a compressor powered by a horse, water, wind-driven sails or steam and was granted a patent for it in 1851. Although Gorrie was unsuccessful at bringing his patented technology to the marketplace; his invention laid the foundation for modern air conditioning and refrigeration.

First Modern Electrical Air Conditioner

While working for the Buffalo Forge Company in 1902, Engineer Willis Carrier was tasked with solving a humidity problem that was causing magazine pages to wrinkle at Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company in Brooklyn. 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. He also created and patented an automatic control system for regulating the humidity and temperature of air in textile mills.

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.

Public Building Air Conditioning

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.

In 1922, Carrier Engineering Corporation installed the first well-designed cooling system for theaters at Metropolitan Theater in Los Angeles, which pumped cool air through higher vents for better humidity control and comfort throughout the building. In May of the same year, at Rivoli Theater in New York, Carrier publicly debuted a new type of system that used a centrifugal chiller, which had fewer moving parts and compressor stages than existing units and increased the reliability and lowered the cost of large-scale air conditioners.

Air Conditioning for the Home

The cooling systems used in public spaces were too large and expensive for homes, so Frigidaire introduced a split-system room cooler to the marketplace in 1929 that was small enough for home use and shaped like a radio cabinet. The system was heavy, expensive and required a separate, remotely controlled condensing unit. General Electric’s Frank Faust improved on this design, and developed a self-contained room cooler, and General Electric ended up producing 32 similar prototypes from 1930 to 1931.

In 1932, home cooling systems got smaller after H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman introduced an air conditioning unit that could be placed on a window ledge. They were very expensive and not widely adapted; which led to Engineer Henry Galson going on to develop a more compact, inexpensive version of the window air conditioner. By 1947, 43,000 of these systems were sold. By the late 1960s, most new homes had central air conditioning, and window air conditioners were more affordable than ever.

In Conclusion

After that shortened version of history, we have learned what life was like before air conditioning as well as how air conditioning came to be what we know it as today.

At Reimer Home Services, we are here for all of your air conditioning needs. Our team repairs, maintains, and installs air conditioners. We work with all cooling systems and all makes and models. Our experienced techs are true experts in all things AC, from the condenser to the evaporator.

For all your air conditioner services in Buffalo, NY, call us or contact us online.