Photo of a woman enjoying window air conditioning in the 1950s.

Different forms of air conditioning and refrigeration have been around for centuries. Still, it wasn't until one Floridian came up with a unique idea in the 1840s that progress began, leading to today’s modern air conditioning.

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Today, especially if you live in Florida, it’s hard to imagine not having cool air in your home and car, and it should come as no surprise that a Florida man invented it. Dr. John Gorrie, from Apalachicola, Florida, developed an early version of air conditioning and refrigeration. His unique idea far ahead of its time, but created a foundation for further technology.

One of the first records of refrigeration dates back as far as 1000 B.C., when the Chinese cut and stored ice. Civilizations like the Egyptians and the Indians also had early versions of making ice, such as leaving pots of water outside on cold nights. Romans would make pits of snow and used their own type of insulation to keep it cool.

The evolution of ice continued, but at the time Dr. Gorrie started his experiments, people were still buying large blocks of ice, typically shipped from out of state.

Dr. John Gorrie is the father of air conditioning and refrigeration. At the time, during the 1840s, yellow fever was killing thousands of people. Dr. Gorrie wanted to help find a cure. He believed that the solution would be to drain the swamps because if you drained the swamps, the mosquitoes spreading disease to people would have nowhere to live.

Obviously, draining the swamps was not an actionable plan, and people continued to become ill. Dr. Gorrie set up sickrooms where he would keep all the sick people. While trying to find a way to keep sick people’s fevers down, he invented the machine that would lay the foundations for what we consider today as air conditioning.

Dr. Gorrie would have ice shipped by river to his patients’ sick rooms where he would hang the ice in a basin, causing indoor air to become cooler. Eventually, he grew tired of waiting for the ice shipments, which led him to create an artificial ice-making machine.

Gorrie went on to create several versions of the refrigeration unit. He got several patents, including the first patents recorded for air conditioning and refrigeration units. He attempted to sell his product but was a commercial failure.

Several other people went on to create better and better inventions for both refrigeration and air conditioning. The next significant jump in air conditioning technology came with Willis Carrier. Willis was a brilliant inventor and by age 25, he invented a revolutionary new air conditioning system that was more portable and affordable.

While his ac units were affordable, they were mainly bought by middle to upper-class civilians or buildings like the movie theatre, where large crowds of people gather. The success of his units allowed him to continue to tinker and invent more devices.

After a long and successful career in air conditioning, Willis Carrier died leaving a legacy which carries on to this day through his company, Carrier.

After Carrier, and even alongside him, grew several competitors, including G.E. By the 1950s and 60’s it became commonplace for window air conditioning units to be in houses. Each model became smaller and more efficient as the years passed. This trend continued to the present day though central air conditioning is the new norm.

Most Floridians hate when their power goes out, and they have to sit in the non-air-conditioned house for a few hours. Today, it’s hard to imagine living in the Florida heat without central air conditioners. While Dr. Gorrie might not have been a commercial success, he is still remembered today through his influential inventions and a park here in Florida.

 

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