Willis Haviland Carrier was born in Angola, New York, on November 26, 1876, a member of an old New England family. Young Willis was educated at Angola Academy and taught school for two years before entering Central High School in Buffalo, New York, to meet college entrance requirements. Carrier then won a state scholarship to attend Cornell University. He graduated from Cornell in 1901 with a degree in electrical engineering, whereupon he joined the Buffalo Forge Company in Buffalo as a research engineer. Carrier became chief engineer of the firm in 1906.
While associated with Buffalo Forge Carrier assisted materially in the development of blowers and of pipe-coil heaters manufactured for the company and formulated a technical method of testing and rating blowers and fan-system heaters. He also devised and published the first system of scientifically determined rating tables defining the capacities, speeds, and resistances of heaters at various steam pressures and air velocities. When the problem of providing clean air was encountered, Carrier invented a spray-type air washer, from which he later developed the spray-type humidifier or de-humidifier.
He next undertook an exhaustive study of a number of issues, including the first analysis of de-humidification by use of mechanical refrigeration. As a result of this, Carrier was able to make the first applications of his spray-type air washer. During studies of these applications, he realized the fundamental importance of humidification (that is, the control of air's moisture content) and developed dewpoint control, a method of regulating humidity by controlling the temperature of the spray-water in the conditioning machine. As a result of these investigations, Carrier presented two papers in 1911 to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers describing humidity control.
Carrier's work was not simply theoretical. Through the offices of Buffalo Forge he put his concepts into practice. Very early he designed for Sackett-Wilhelm Lithography and Publishing Company a system which maintained 55 percent humidity in the building throughout the year at a temperature of 70 degrees in winter and 80 degrees in the summer. By 1907 Carrier systems had been installed in several cotton mills and other plants. Therefore, later in that year Buffalo Forge decided to establish a wholly-owned subsidiary—the Carrier Air Conditioning Company—to engineer and market complete air conditioning systems. For the next six years Carrier was vice-president of the subsidiary and chief engineer and director of research for the parent firm. During this time Carrier equipment was installed in several industries: tobacco, rayon, rubber, paper, pharmaceuticals, and food processing.
Carrier, then, was the "father of air conditioning" in America in both a theoretical and a practical sense. Although the term "air conditioning" was first used by Stuart W. Cramer, a Charlotte, North Carolina, mill owner and operator, Carrier quickly adopted it, defining air conditioning as control of air humidity, temperature, purity, and circulation. In 1914 Buffalo Forge decided to limit itself to manufacturing and withdrew from the engineering business. Carrier then formed the Carrier Engineering Corporation. Shortly thereafter Carrier made an invention which would transform the industry. He developed a radical new refrigeration machine—the centrifugal compressor—which used safe, non-toxic refrigerants and could serve large installations cheaply. This opened the way for a system whose objective was human comfort.
During the 1920s Carrier began installing complete air conditioning systems. One of the earliest and most significant of these was in the massive J. L. Hudson department store in Detroit in 1924. This was followed in 1928-1929 by installations in the House and Senate chambers of the American Capitol. Of more local significance was the fact that by 1930 more than 300 movie theaters had installed air conditioning systems. The company, which Willis Carrier had started on a shoestring in 1915, prospered as a result of these and other installations and by 1929 was operating two plants in Newark, New Jersey, and a third in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In 1930 Carrier Engineering merged with two manufacturing firms—Brunswick-Kroeschell Company and the York Heating and Ventilating Corporation—to become the Carrier Corporation, with Willis Carrier as chairman of the board.
The depression of the 1930s, however, forced the company to fight for its survival. Bringing in business consultants, Carrier cut costs and systematized his operations, centralizing everything in a plant in Syracuse, New York. He also began to search out new markets. An obvious candidate was the tall skyscraper, but until the late 1930s no system could effectively provide this service. In 1939, however, Carrier invented a system in which conditioned air from a central station was piped through small steel conduits at high velocity to individual rooms. Although adoption was stalled by World War II, after the war there was a great boom in air conditioning, as it virtually became compulsory for any office building. Carrier Air Conditioning reaped a lion's share of this business, but a heart attack forced Carrier to retire in 1948. He died on October 7, 1950.
Carrier's achievements were manifold, and at his death he held more than 80 patents. Besides those things previously mentioned, he also played a significant role in the development of the centrifugal pump, determined and published basic data pertaining to the friction of air in ducts, developed practicable means to ensure uniform and effective air distribution and circulation within buildings, designed the diffuser outlet, and developed the ejector system of air circulation in which a relatively small volume of air is ejected through converging nozzles in such a manner that it induces the movement of air from three to five times its own volume, thereby providing an effective circulation within the given enclosure.
One of the most notable installations of Carrier equipment was made at the Robinson Deep in South Africa, the deepest mine in the world. By means of Carrier equipment, the owners were able to increase the mine's depth 1,500 feet to a total of 8,500, thereby increasing the available amount of gold. Carrier was awarded the John Scott medal by the city of Philadelphia in 1931 for his air conditioning inventions; the F. Paul Anderson medal of the American Society of Heating Engineers; and the American Society of Mechanical Engineer's Society medal in 1934.
M. Ingels, W. H. Carrier: Father of Air Conditioning (1927) provides a biography. Information on the air conditioning industry can be obtained from books published by Carrier Corporation. □
Carrier, Willis Haviland
CARRIER, WILLIS HAVILAND
Willis H. Carrier (1876–1950) invented the equipment that made air conditioning possible and founded the company that brought cooler homes, factories, and movie theaters to much of the United States. Air conditioning, invented by Carrier in 1902, has been credited with making possible the booming economic development of the Sun Belt in the last half of the twentieth century.
Carrier was born near rural Angola, New York, and grew up as an only child in a poor farm family. He worked his way through high school and taught for three years before he could enroll at Cornell University where he was awarded a full scholarship. After graduating from Cornell in 1901 with a Master's in engineering, Carrier took a job for $10 a week with the Buffalo Forge Company, a firm that manufactured heating and exhaust systems.
One of the young engineer's first assignments was to solve a dilemma that was vexing a Brooklyn, New York, printing plant. Fluctuations in heat and humidity in the plant caused the printer's paper supply to expand and contract. As a result, colored inks were not accurately applied to the paper. In 1902, just a year after graduating from college, Carrier designed a heat and humidity control system that stabilized the atmosphere in the factory. His patent for "Apparatus for Treating Air" (Patent No. 808,897) was awarded in 1906. It was the first of more than 80 patents he was to receive over a lifetime of inventions. At the time, Carrier predicted his invention would be used in homes as well as factories.
In 1911 Carrier announced his "Rational Psychrometric Formulae" to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Fundamental calculations in air conditioning technology are still made according to these formulas. Carrier discovered these formulae as he struggled with the problems they entailed one foggy night on a railroad platform. By the time the train arrived, he understood the relationship between temperature, humidity, and dew point.
In 1915, together with six other engineers from Buffalo Forge, Carrier founded the Carrier Engineering Corp. with starting capital of $35,000. In 1921 he patented the first safe, low-pressure centrifugal refrigeration machine that used nontoxic, noninflammable refrigerant. Many historians mark this invention as the beginning of the air-conditioning era. In 1924, shoppers came in droves to a Detroit department store after three of Carrier's chillers were installed. Soon movie theaters were advertising that they were "cooled by refrigeration," and the summer film business boomed.
In 1928 Carrier developed the first air conditioner for home use. Private sales of air conditioners were slow during the Great Depression, but the business rapidly expanded when home units again became available after World War II (1939–1945). Some cultural historians have claimed that the prevalence of air conditioning in many parts of the country drastically changed U.S. society in the last half of the twentieth century. They contend that, along with television, air conditioning has kept Americans within their own homes and lessened the hours of social interaction that formerly took place on country porches and city front stoops. Cities in the South and Southwest, once considered nearly impossible to live in during the warm summer months, suddenly became very attractive locations in which to live and work. The Sun Belt was born.
Willis Carrier died in 1950, but his invention has left almost no area of contemporary American life untouched. Climate control enabled the growth of the computer industry, made deep mining for gold, silver, and other metals possible, saved many valuable manuscripts for posterity, and kept meat, fish, fruit and vegetables fresh and cool in supermarkets throughout the country. Hospitals, schools, airports, and office buildings were maintained at optimum temperature and humidity by air conditioning. Within a century, a device invented to solve a printing problem transformed an entire society.
See also: Sun Belt
Friedman, Robert. "The air-conditioned century: the story of how a blast of cool dry air changed America." American Heritage, August-September, 1984.
Holt, Donald D. "The Hall of Fame for Business Leadership." Fortune, March 23, 1981.
Ivins, Molly. "King of Cool: Willis Carrier." Time, December 7, 1998.