The short version of the story is that Willis Carrier invented air conditioning in 1902, founded the Carrier Corporation, which still makes air conditioners to this day, and changed our way of living and dealing with the environment. The more detailed story of air conditioning is about how long it took the public to believe it, accept it, and then to become dependent on it. That story began way before Carrier.
Experts are quick to point out that crediting Carrier as the father of modern cooling technology would overlook decades-long efforts by other inventors who used refrigeration to make hot days more productive or comfortable, though. Long before Carrier was even born, University of Glasgow professor William Cullen evaporated liquids in a vacuum thus creating refrigeration technology as early as 1748.
More than 100 years after that, John Gorrie, a Florida doctor, used a small steam engine to cool air so that his patients suffering from tropical illnesses could be more comfortable. Gorrie called his invention an “ice machine.” New machinery that could produce cool temperatures would seem like an exciting proposition during the Industrial Revolution, but Gorrie’s efforts to patent and popularize his invention were thwarted. Northern icemakers who profited from shipping ice to the South lobbied against Gorrie and benefited from a public skeptical of the artificially cooled air produced by Gorrie’s ice machine.
“That system was so revolutionary that he died penniless. He simply couldn’t get anyone to believe that it worked,” Basile says.
In fact, Carrier’s first air conditioner was not even designed for human comfort. But he was a businessman as well as an engineer, and promoted air conditioning for decades despite the setbacks of two world wars and a depression. Read the story of modern air conditioning at Smithsonian.