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A cool anniversary in the heat of summer

Moseyin’ Along

August 1, 2012
By Joyce Schenk - COLUMNIST ( , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Last week, while most of the country was sweltering in triple-digit temperatures, an important anniversary slipped by almost unnoticed.

It was on July 17, 1902 - 110 years ago -when Willis Carrier invented the air conditioner. Considered the "father of cool," Carrier had graduated only a year before with a Masters Degree in engineering from Cornell. At the time of his break-through, he was working at the Buffalo Forge Company for a salary of $10 per week.

Carrier invented his original air-cooling and conditioning unit to reduce the humidity in a magazine plant to keep the pages from wrinkling.

How folks got along in the pre-air conditioning days has always been a mystery to me.

Here, in our corner of the hot and humid state of Florida, history is filled with tales of such luminaries as Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and railroad magnate Henry Flagler. These men and their contemporaries brought wide-ranging progress to the peninsula state.

You can't read the accounts of the impressive work of such business leaders without realizing the impact they had on their world. But how were they able to accomplish anything in the three-piece woolen suits they always wore in Florida's energy-draining hot and humid climate?

Although Carrier's air conditioning system was unique in that it was designed to take the excess moisture out of the air, it wasn't the first type of air-cooling mankind had used. Before Carrier came on the scene, cooling systems relied on evaporation by blowing air through moisture-laden cloths or other sources of water. These methods were used in areas traditionally dry - like the state of Texas.

I well remember the air conditioner hubby George devised for our first little house in sweltering, arid Fort Worth. He mounted the big, boxy unit on the roof and surrounded the internal fan with sheets of excelsior, a straw-like substance. Then he plumbed the set up so water would run onto the pads. By turning on the fan - from a switch conveniently installed beside our bed - he could force cooling air through the water-soaked sheets. The result was a delightfully cool bedroom in the midst of a Fort Worth heat wave. No wonder I came to look on this husband of mine as some kind of genius.

When Carrier's air conditioner debuted, the technology was out of the reach of the average homeowner or even the businessmen of the day. Before the prices came down, the only places folks were likely to experience the blessings of the electrically cooled and de-humidified air was in movie theaters. Although the country was in the grips of the Great Depression, theater owners were willing to spend the $10,000 to $50,000 necessary to air condition their movie houses. The enhancement brought in the public like nothing else could.

Today we all take air conditioning for granted unless the power fails - as happened here after Hurricane Charley blew through the area. In that case, we were once again plunged into the hot, humid pre-air conditioned world.

Such steps back in time help us to treasure the advancements we have come to enjoy, thanks to folks like Willis Carrier, a man who was the very definition of "cool."



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