Air conditioning patents are the means by which inventors protect their new methods of keeping us cool through legal means. A patented object or process cannot be duplicated without permission by people other than the patent holder, allowing the filer to use their work to make a living. Air conditioners are a major field of appliances controlled by patents and Americans certainly appreciate the devices they make possible.

Air Conditioning in Modern America

When the summer heat rises, Americans from almost every state turn to their trusty friend: the air conditioner. Whether via central air or a single window unit, air conditioners give us the ability to fend off the heat with cool air on demand. All with the push of a few buttons — or even, these days, with the operation of a smartphone app.

The effects of air conditioning are perhaps best metered in the wide range of habits and climates we now inhabit, with hot southern states becoming more welcoming even in the warmest months. Though these units are certainly ubiquitous in the United States, they also have their critics who claim that the heavy energy usage of air conditioners is damaging the environment. In response, some point out the relatively high energy usage in winter by comparison.

Ancient History

Whatever the environmental impact, the human desire to control the temperature dates to the earliest recorded history. And patents played a major role in the process. Here are some of the major highlights of the coolest history around:

  • Some of the earliest attempts to reduce the temperature took place in 2nd century China, where rudimentary manual fan devices moved air through rooms.
  • Romans, on the other hand, had their cooling brought to them in the form of ice from mountains and water from the aqueducts.
  • In the Middle Ages, open building construction made interior spaces breezier to compensate for the lack of technological solutions.

Dawn of Air Conditioning

But none of these early experiments were air conditioning proper. For that, we need to visit Benjamin Franklin, the renowned political figure and part-time inventor. Working with John Hadley in 1758, Franklin developed a means of freezing water using alcohol. Their experiments were later repeated by Michael Faraday in 1820, this time using ammonia.

Some of the earliest adopters of air conditioning were the hospitals, who needed to keep their patients comfortable. Enter John Gorrie, a doctor treating yellow fever in the deep south. Noticing that cases of the disease were far more common in the hot and humid south than the dry and cool north, Gorrie rigged up a device to blow air through an ice maker via a fan. He patented the process, though resistance from the ice industry kept his invention from becoming widespread.

Later, when President James Garfield took a bullet from an assassin, Charles Guiteau, naval engineers prepared a cooling device to blow air through a wet cloth and colder air to separate and flow beneath. This helped the President spend his last moments in as much comfort as was possible in a 90 degree D.C. summer. Although Garfield would eventually succumb to a mixture of the bullet wound and the primitive treatments available at the time, at least he wasn't overheated.

The next major advance in cooling was made by Willis Carrier, who worked on the problem of humidity. He filed an original patent application for a device that would push air through water and create fog, which would pull moisture out of the surrounding environment. This was the first true air conditioning, and the Carrier company showcased their work in the movie theaters of the day, cooling down hot summer crowds and cementing the place of films in American life. Carrier went on to lead the cutting edge of air conditioning technology for many years.

A Modern Inventor

Frank Wicks, by contrast, is a more recent inventor. He set out to solve the problem of coolant materials in refrigeration by combining modern technology with older forms. Where older air conditioners would often use gas-powered units, newer ones use Freon — the same substance used in refrigerators. The Wicks unit combines both, taking advantage of the more energy-efficient gas power to kickstart the Freon unit in its first cycle, preventing waste energy and making the whole process work better.

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