Wednesday, June 24, 2009

You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone

Yesterday the air conditioning went out at work. It was hot. And I am frequently hot at work. I bought a fan is what I'm saying. But yesterday, when the temperature outside was 102, some chiller/damper combo went out. And it was hot. Today I have many fewer clothes on and if it happens again, I'm wearing a swimsuit to work. That should be threat enough to send me home if the air goes out today.

On the way home, I was pondering the brilliance that is air conditioning and thinking they should have a personals site for the men of HVAC. The ability to fix broken air (and heat but to a lesser degree) is a very attractive quality right about now.

And if you'd like to bless the saints of air conditioning, here's what Wiki says about the history. Those Romans, they thought of everything! As long as you were wealthy or a king or something. And the Chinese and Egyptians. And New Yorkers!

(Note to self: good job on being born after the 1950s.)

While moving heat via machinery to provide air conditioning is a relatively modern invention, the cooling of buildings is not. Wealthy ancient Romans circulated aqueduct water through walls to cool their luxurious houses.

The 2nd century Chinese inventor Ding Huan (fl. 180) of the Han Dynasty invented a rotary fan for air conditioning, with seven wheels 3 m (10 ft) in diameter and manually powered. In 747, Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–762) of the Tang Dynasty (618–907) had the Cool Hall (Liang Tian) built in the imperial palace, which the Tang Yulin describes as having water-powered fan wheels for air conditioning as well as rising jet streams of water from fountains. During the subsequent Song Dynasty (960–1279), written sources mentioned the air conditioning rotary fan as even more widely used.

Medieval Persia had buildings that used cisterns and wind towers to cool buildings during the hot season: cisterns (large open pools in a central courtyards, not underground tanks) collected rain water; wind towers had windows that could catch wind and internal vanes to direct the airflow down into the building, usually over the cistern and out through a downwind cooling tower. Cistern water evaporated, cooling the air in the building.

Ventilators were invented in medieval Egypt and were widely used in many houses throughout Cairo during the Middle Ages. These ventilators were later described in detail by Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi in 1200, who reported that almost every house in Cairo has a ventilator, and that they cost anywhere from 1 to 500 dinars depending on their sizes and shapes. Most ventilators in the city were oriented towards the Qibla, as was the city in general.

In the 1600s Cornelius Drebbel demonstrated "turning Summer into Winter" for James I of England by adding salt to water.

In 1820, British scientist and inventor Michael Faraday discovered that compressing and liquefying ammonia could chill air when the liquefied ammonia was allowed to evaporate. In 1842, Florida physician John Gorrie used compressor technology to create ice, which he used to cool air for his patients in his hospital in Apalachicola, Florida. He hoped eventually to use his ice-making machine to regulate the temperature of buildings. He even envisioned centralized air conditioning that could cool entire cities. Though his prototype leaked and performed irregularly, Gorrie was granted a patent in 1851 for his ice-making machine. His hopes for its success vanished soon afterwards when his chief financial backer died; Gorrie did not get the money he needed to develop the machine. According to his biographer, Vivian M. Sherlock, he blamed the "Ice King", Frederic Tudor, for his failure, suspecting that Tudor had launched a smear campaign against his invention. Dr. Gorrie died impoverished in 1855 and the idea of air conditioning faded away for 50 years.

Early commercial applications of air conditioning were manufactured to cool air for industrial processing rather than personal comfort. In 1902 the first modern electrical air conditioning was invented by Willis Haviland Carrier in Syracuse, NY. Designed to improve manufacturing process control in a printing plant, his invention controlled not only temperature but also humidity. The low heat and humidity were to help maintain consistent paper dimensions and ink alignment. Later Carrier's technology was applied to increase productivity in the workplace, and The Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America was formed to meet rising demand. Over time air conditioning came to be used to improve comfort in homes and automobiles. Residential sales expanded dramatically in the 1950s.

And my other favorite place for AC...the car.
(Note to self: good job on not being old enough to drive until air conditioners were commonplace.)

The Packard Motor Car Company was the first automobile manufacturer to build air conditioners into its cars, beginning in 1939. These air conditioners were originally optional, and could be installed for an extra $274 (about $4,050 in 2007 dollars), though they took up the entire trunk space and were not very efficient. General Motors introduced a more efficient air conditioner beginning with its 1954 Pontiac V8 models, but automobile air conditioners would not become truly commonplace until the 1970s and 1980s.

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