The Air Conditioning System and the History of the South

If you live in the Southern United States, you’re accustomed to feeling of cool breezes blowing from an air conditioner. This is simply a basic part of life during the middle of the year. In fact, more than 90% of homes and businesses in the South are equipped with air conditioning.

But this isn’t merely an interesting bit of trivia: the development of electro-mechanical air conditioning had a significant impact on the history of the South in the 20th century—and it continues into the 21st. The boom in Southern cities and businesses that started after World War II and expanded in the 1960s can be linked directly to the spread of air conditioning.

The invention of the air conditioner

The AC wasn’t invented in the South, and it wasn’t even originally devised as a way to cool people off. Willis Haviland Carrier created the first electro-mechanical air conditioner in Brooklyn, NY in 1902. At the time he called it an “apparatus for treating air,” and its specific purpose was to control humidity in paper plants. The name air conditioning was given to the device by two southerners, however, from right here in North Carolina. Stuart Cramer and I. H. Hardeman installed a Carrier cooling system for a cotton mill in Belmont. Air conditioners in industrial buildings soon started to spread, and they became used to provide comfort as well as humidity control.

The residential air conditioner

The earliest ACs were ill-suited for homes or apartments. They were too large and used refrigerant that was either flammable or toxic. The invention of non-toxic refrigerants such as Freon and smaller compressors allowed these systems to expand into homes in the 1920s, but only the wealthiest could afford them. But air conditioning still spread rapidly across the South for commercial buildings, where it took the edge off the muggy and humid summers.

In the 1950s, the invention of the window unit AC gave average homeowners access to in-house cooling for the first time. And this is where the revolution in Southern living occurred. In the 1960s, for the first time in almost a century, the South experienced a net gain of new residents. Heat waves were no longer deadly, and communities that were either dwindling or stagnant started to grow. The many burgeoning population centers in the South, as well as the numerous business that have moved here, wouldn’t be possible without the invention of Willis Carrier and the innovators who followed him.

Looking for air conditioning professionals in Brevard, NC or the surrounding areas who can help you enjoy a great life in the South? Then call Comfort Central, Inc. We invest in doing the job right the first time!

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