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Turn Back Time: The History of HVAC

Turn Back Time: The History of HVAC

by HVAC Distributors

Imagine a world with no air conditioning to cool you off in the summer or no heat to warm your home in the winter. What was once considered a luxury, is now a necessity for consumers.

In fact, each year 3 million heating and cooling systems are replaced and $14 billion is spent on HVAC services in the United States. It is estimated that about half of a typical home’s energy usage comes from heating and cooling, making high efficiency HVAC systems critical to managing energy consumption and costs for homeowners (U.S. Department of Energy and ENERGY STAR).

Invention of Air Conditioning

Let’s look back to the 1840s when physician and inventor Dr. John Gorrie believed cooling would kill diseases such as malaria. He hoped that cooling would make patients more comfortable, however, his cooling system invention was costly and impractical. To cool the hospital rooms, the system required ice from frozen lakes or streams in the northern U.S.

Paul Lester (2015), states in the article History of Air Conditioning that Gorrie eventually began experimenting with artificial cooling, designing a machine that created ice using a compressor. The system was powered by horse, water, wind-driven sails, or steam. He patented the machine in 1851 but it did not make it to the marketplace.

Although Gorrie was unsuccessful at bringing his patent to the marketplace, he is known for laying the foundation for modern air conditioning and refrigeration.

First Furnace Invention

Benjamin Franklin invented the cast iron stove in 1742, ultimately becoming the prototype for the furnace we know today. Until 1885, homes were heated by wood-burning fireplaces. During this time, cast iron radiators began to enter homes.

It was not until 1935 that homeowners saw the first forced-air furnace. It used an electric fan distributing coal-heated air through the home’s ducts (Coyne College, 2020).

Buildings Witness Cooling Systems for the First Time

Cooling systems were not always available for homeowners.

A breakthrough occurred in the 1920s with movie theaters. Early cooling systems were modified heating systems with refrigeration equipment that distributed cooled air through floor vents. This made for hot and muggy temperatures in the upper levels and cooler temperatures in the lower levels of the theater.

Then, in 1922, Carrier Engineering Corporation created a cooling system that allowed cool air to flow through higher-level air vents.

Air Conditioning Enters the Home

Even with advancements in cooling technology, the systems were too large and expensive to bring into homes.

In 1929, Frigidaire introduced a small split-system room cooler to the marketplace. It was shaped like a cabinet radio. Unfortunately, the system was too expensive and required a separate condensing unit.

General Electric decided to give their best attempt at perfecting the cooling system. Frank Faust ended up improving the system with a self-contained room cooler. General Electric produced 32 prototypes from 1930 to 1931 (, 2015).

As time went on, home cooling systems began to shrink in size and by the end of the 1960s, most new homes had central air conditioning and window units became affordable.

Air Conditioning & Heating Systems Today

There are many innovative technologies in the HVAC industry today, such as dual system technologies and the ability to connect systems to smartphones.

HVAC systems will continue to evolve and change for years to come. As technology advances, make sure to stay up to date on the latest advancements. Keeping up with the current technology will allow you to choose the best options for your customers.

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(n.d.). Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC). Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

Coyne College (n.d.). A BRIEF HISTORY OF HVAC.

Lester, P. (2015, July 20). History of Air Conditioning.