Unless you are a long-time HVAC technician like us, or you’re shopping around for a new air conditioner, you probably don’t find the topic of A/C systems all that interesting. Reading an entire book about air conditioners would certainly not be a fun way to spend an afternoon, right?
Not according to author Salvatore Basile, who demonstrates in his new book Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything that the story of how humankind gradually attempted to overcome the slow torture of hot weather is actually a quite fascinating one.
However, if reading 288 pages about air conditioning still doesn’t appeal to you, check out these 10 surprising facts you probably didn’t know about air conditioning from the book:
- Ever gone to the movie theaters just to escape the heat? You aren’t the only one. Since there were no home air conditioning systems back in 1917, theater owners would fill seats by marketing their “state-of-the-art” ice-cold A/C with icicle-covered letters on their advertisements. This was undoubtedly pretty enticing on those simmering summer days.
- In 1736, the English House of Commons was cooled by a seven-foot, hand-cranked “blowing wheel,” which acted as a giant fan. The man at the helm of the crank was called the Ventilator.
- The first ice-making machine was patented as early as 1851, but the invention was smothered by American ice interests for decades due to an extensive network that stored and transported ice from northern regions.
- A fair number of machine cooling systems were developed early on, but they were slow to catch on. In 1891, one such machine transformed a beer hall and restaurant into an “Ice Palace” through the process of refrigeration. However, the people who witnessed the frost-covered pipes and 20 degree cooler temperature inside merely considered it a welcomed phenomenon.
- An anonymous California millionaire was the first person to try using A/C to cool a room in his home in 1892. The room was just 6 by 9 feet and required a false wall to hide machinery, more of which was placed on the roof.
- Two of the earliest ventilation systems were installed in 1899, in Cornell University’s dissecting rooms (for cadavers), and 1903, at the New York Stock Exchange.
- Willis H. Carrier, the genius behind the modern A/C system, was so absorbed in his invention that he once left for a business trip with large suitcase packed with nothing but a handkerchief. Some genius, eh?
- The first fully air conditioned home was built in Minneapolis (of all places) in 1913 by Charles “Spend-a-Million” Gates, heir to the barbed wire fortune. The mansion took up three city lots and also had gold plumbing, as well as a full ballroom. Unfortunately, Gates never got to experience it, as he died while on a hunting trip before the house was completed.
- Herbert Hoover was the first President to enjoy air conditioning in the Oval Office. He spent $30,000 on the system, just months after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the start of the Great Depression.
- For a basic window A/C unit in the 1940s, you’d spend around $350, which in today’s money is almost $3,500.
See, who says air conditioning can’t be interesting?