Working inside an office during a heatwave in June. A dinner party in July. Buying chocolate in August. If you talk to Salvatore Basile, author of the book Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything these things wouldn’t have happened in America without the ability to cool the temperature around us.
“It has shaped our world to the extent that people can carry on very normal lives during the hot months, which would not have happened before,” Basile says.
Today, almost 75 percent of U.S. homes have air conditioning, but for an appliance that has become a near necessity for Americans, one of the first of its kind was surprisingly unconcerned with human comfort.
At the turn of the 20th century, humidity threatened the reputation of Brooklyn’s Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographic and Publishing Company’s high-quality color printing. After two summers of extreme heat disrupted business and caused swelling pages and blurry prints, the printing company found that a nascent cooling industry could offer help.
Willis Carrier, a 25-year-old experimental engineer, created a primitive cooling system to reduce humidity around the printer. He used an industrial fan to blow air over steam coils filled with cold water; the excess humidity would then condense on the coils and produce cooled air.
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