The electro-mechanical air conditioning system has been around since 1902, when Willis Haviland Carrier invented a refrigerant-based device designed to lower humidity inside paper plants. The AC has gone through many developments during the century-plus it’s been around, and now it’s a standard part of the daily lives of most people in the U.S.
Any invention that’s been around long enough will have collected some interesting tales. Here are a few AC history facts that you may not have known:
- The irony of the first air conditioned home: The first person to have an air conditioner installed for his home was the wealthy Charles Gates, heir to the barbed wire fortune. He had air conditioning as part of the construction of his new mansion in Minneapolis. The irony is that he never got to enjoy the cool interior, since he died in a hunting accident before construction was completed.
- Air conditioning that’s better than the movie: Commercial properties were able to adopt air conditioning before most homes could afford it. And no commercial enterprise embraced air conditioning stronger than movie theaters. Often, the advertisement for the air conditioned theater was much more prominent than the ads for the actual movie! During the summer, people crowded into the theaters to see double-features simply to get out of the heat.
- Phil Hartman once played an air conditioner: Making inanimate household objects into characters in movies, especially animated movies, is an old tradition. The air conditioning got the character treatment in the 1987 animated film The Brave Little Toaster, where comedian Phil Hartman voiced the AC in a sneering Jack Nicholson voice.
- The first president with a Cool Oval Office: Herbert Hoover became the first president with an air conditioned White House. Hoover paid $30,000 out of his own pocket for the installation, which was done only a few weeks after the stock market crash of 1929.
- Take the summer off! One of the reasons that schools have the summer off is that before air conditioning came around, it was simply too hot to keep school in session. But many governments did the same thing, either adjourning until fall or temporarily moving the seat of government to a more northern city.
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