Antecedents

The first antecedent for air conditioning actually comes from the Chinese. Ding Huane, a Chinese inventor from the 2nd century, created a rotary fan for air conditioning. It had 7 wheels that were 3 meters in diameter. They were manually powered, but due to the fact that one would need human force to use this piece of technology, it was not widely used at all.[1] By the 740’s, Emperor Zuanzong of the Tang Dynasty had an inventor called Liang Tian build a “Cool Hall” in the imperial palace. This area was a water-powered fan that had wheels and jet streams of water from fountains inside the palace. By the 1270’s, air conditioning via rotary fans had become widely used in China.[2]

In 1758, Benjamin Franklin and John Hadley conducted an experiment together. They were testing evaporation. The two were looking for a way to rapidly cool an object. They noticed that evaporation in volatile liquids can alter the temperature of an object past freezing, which is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The two men took a bulb that was at 65 degrees and put it into 7 degrees. What happened was that a thin sheet of ice formed on the bulb, around a quarter of an inch thick. Franklin was quoted as saying “From this experiment, one may see the possibility of freezing a man to death on a warm summer’s day.”[3]

In 1820, Michael Faraday liquefied ammonia, which actually cooled the air and evaporated the ammonia. In 1842, John Gorrie in Florida used compressions to create ice for patients in hospitals. He wanted to turn his ice maker into a machine that would allow one to regulate the temperature of buildings. He envisioned having the ability to turn a knob and lower the temperature throughout cities. He received a patent in 1851, but he had problems getting his machine to properly function when his financial backer died.  Without his backer, Faraday never was able to obtain the money needed to allow his machine to run properly (see picture below for ice machine).[4]

These are the actual antecedents that helped lead to the invention of air conditioning. It was not until the early 1900’s that Willis Carrier was able to piece it all together to create a cooling machine. The next part of the exhibit will cover this and more.

[1] Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, Volume 4: Physics and Physical Technology, Part 2, Mechanical Engineering (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 99, 123.

[2] ibid, page 151.

[3] Franklin, Benjamin. Benjamin Franklin to John Lining, June 17, 1758. The Writings of Benjamin Franklin: London, 1757 – 1775.

[4] Malcolm Jones Jr, “Air Conditioning”, Newsweek, Winter 1997.

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