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The History of Air Conditioners


Air conditioning, a ubiquitous comfort in the modern world, has an intricate history that traces centuries. Its evolution from simple cooling methods to sophisticated climate control systems has significantly impacted human comfort, productivity, and technological advancements. The narrative of air conditioners is a fascinating journey of innovation and engineering.

As of 2021, 24.57 million households in the Philippines have an air conditioner. If you’re interested in how the cool air of air conditioners came to life, read more below. 

What is the Origin of an Air Conditioner?

Does AC ventilate

The concept of modern air conditioning has ancient roots. In ancient Rome, treating air was done by installing aqueducts that circulated water through the walls of homes to create a cooling effect and maintain air temperature. Similarly, in ancient Egypt, pumped cool air was achieved by hanging wet reeds in windows to cool the incoming air through evaporation.

The formalized study of refrigeration technology, compressor technology, and cooling technologies began in the 18th century. Benjamin Franklin, a renowned inventor and scientist, experimented with evaporative cooling by using ether to achieve temperature reduction. 

This created a domino effect; they started looking for artificial cooling and forming a well-designed cooling system. They changed from the ice-making machine, which, as its name suggests, creates ice, to mechanical air conditioning that creates a chill air through mechanical refrigeration.    

However, the turning point in the history of air conditioning emerged during the 19th century.

When Was the First Air Conditioner Invented?

In 1902, Willis Carrier, an American engineer and founder of Carrier Air Conditioning Company, developed the first modern electrical air conditioning unit. 

It started when Buffalo Forge Company was commissioned to create a device that controlled humidity using cooling coils. A New York publishing company requested them as the printing plant was facing problems with wrinkled magazine pages. 

Haviland Carrier originally wanted an automatic control system that functions as humidity control by cooling water or heating water. But, instead of just controlling the humidity, Willis Carrier managed to control the temperature, creating comfort and cooling throughout the room.

Who Invented the Air Conditioner First?

Willis Haviland Carrier, an American engineer, is credited with inventing the first modern electrical air conditioning unit. After discovering that his system, which has an evaporator coil, fan, and compressor, can regulate humidity and temperature, he decided to work on that further. 

Willis Carrier chose to patent this innovation. He became the vice president of Buffalo Forge but left after Carrier realized the potential of his invention, forming Carrier Engineering Corporation.      

His groundbreaking work fundamentally changed the way people experienced and controlled indoor environments, pioneering the path for the development of modern air conditioning appliances and other machines that use the same principles, like heat pumps.

Expansion and Technological Developments in Air Conditioning Systems

Over the ensuing decades, new air conditioners saw immense growth and diversification. A window air conditioner for homes became available in the mid-20th century, allowing residential spaces to enjoy the benefits of controlled indoor climates. Central air conditioning systems can now be used in homes, compared to back when it was not accessible and possible.

As technology advanced, air conditioners became smarter and more efficient. Integrating digital thermostats and smart technology allowed for precise control and remote management, optimizing energy usage and comfort.

Moreover, focusing on eco-friendly refrigerants and energy-efficient designs became a priority in the 21st century. Innovations like variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems and inverter technology have improved energy efficiency while providing personalized comfort.

History of Air Conditioning

Carrier Engineering Corporation played a pivotal role in developing air conditioners today. This included innovations such as window air conditioners, central air conditioning units, portable units, a split-system room cooler, and more. Their application in the industrial and commercial sectors enhanced productivity and significantly improved the quality of life for many.

However, the evolution of air conditioning has been a journey spanning a considerable period. Here’s a short history of how air conditioning systems have developed up to the present day.


At the time, studies showed that liquefied ammonia can reduce hot air as it releases a chilled atmosphere when evaporated. These studies laid the groundwork for understanding the principles of refrigeration and the cooling properties of certain substances, which later became instrumental in creating modern air conditioning systems.


During hot climates, Dr. John Gurrie wanted to create cool hospital rooms for patients with yellow fever and malaria; he then used a fan to blow on a bucket of ice to create chill air. 

It was a logistical nightmare, so in 1851, Dr. Gurrie created a machine that generated ice using a compressor powered by water, wind, steam, or horse. It didn’t reach the market, but it became one of the foundations of the modern AC system. 


The first ever modern AC system today was invented by Willis Carrier. He took on a job given to him by Buffalo Forge Company; after realizing the potential of his work, he left the company and founded the Carrier Air Conditioning Company with six other engineers.


During the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, commonly known as the St. Louis World’s Fair, the Missouri State Building showcased a significant technological advancement—the first public demonstration of an air conditioner “cooling cities.”  


Installing the first residential air conditioners marked a significant milestone in the history of home cooling systems. This event signified the profound impact that refrigeration equipment had on revolutionizing home cooling systems, ushering in a new era of comfort and convenience for residential spaces.


Air conditioning became more commonplace in theaters, department stores, and offices. In 1922, Carrier Engineering Corporation installed the first intricate AC system for the Metropolitan Theater. 

It has higher vents for better humidity and temperature control. In the same year, Carrier showcased a centrifugal chiller-based system that can circulate cold air through the floor vents.  


J. Sherman and H. Schultz developed the first room air conditioner that could sit on a window ledge. The window unit didn’t kick off among the masses due to its high cost.  


Engineer Henry Galson created a smaller, cost-effective iteration of the window air conditioner and established manufacturing lines for multiple companies. This, in turn, made a cost-effective way to have cooling in your home without breaking the bank.  


It’s not always rainbows and butterflies for the AC world. During the 1970’s, the energy crisis hit. The Energy Department and other lawmakers passed laws to reduce energy consumption. 


The Montreal Protocol and Amendments created an international agreement to phase out substances that cause ozone depletion and climate change. This led to the development and use of eco-friendly refrigerants in air conditioning systems.


In the Energy Policy Act, the Energy Department imposes conservation standards for manufacturers of residential central air conditioners and heat pumps, marking the beginning of regulations focused on energy efficiency.


Initial conservation standards for ACs and heat pumps are projected to yield approximately $29 billion in energy bill savings.


In recent decades, air conditioning systems have become smarter and more energy-efficient. The integration of digital thermostats, innovative technology, and a focus on eco-friendly refrigerants have brought forth a new era of sustainable and optimized climate control.

The future of air conditioning is moving towards eco-friendly refrigerants, solar-powered systems, and AI-driven control systems for maximum efficiency and reduced environmental impact.

The history of air conditioners has been a tale of innovation and progress, from ancient cooling methods to cutting-edge, sustainable technologies. As it continues to evolve, air conditioning remains a pivotal element in our quest for comfort, productivity, and sustainability, reshaping our environments and improving the quality of life for people worldwide.

JP Reyes

JP has been in the aircon industry for almost as long as he has been alive. As a child JP would help his tatay fix aircon units at their junk shop in Cavite. After graduating UP in the early 2000's, JP then started his own Aircon servicing business and within 5 years had 10 shops in 8 different cities. Fast forward to today and JP brings all his experience and expertise online to give readers trustworthy advice and reviews about Air-conditioning buying, servicing, cleaning and repair in the Philippines.

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