ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 48

ASHRAE - CELEBRATING 125 YEARS

just to Frigidaire, but to any manufacturer who wanted
to use it. Freon 12, the first CFC sold, was shortly followed by other chlorofluorocarbons for various refrigeration applications, and before long, the other toxic
and flammable refrigerants disappeared from use. One
significant advantage of the chlorofluorocarbons was
that they could be used in direct expansion systems for
air conditioning (Figure 9). The new availability of a safe
refrigerant did spur development of central and packaged air conditioners beginning in the 1930s, which
accelerated after World War II ended. The chlorofluorocarbons came to dominate non-industrial refrigeration until scientists discovered that chlorofluorocarbons damage stratospheric ozone. This environmental
hazard was not foreseen in 1928 when the concern for
safety was close at hand. No doubt the rapid expansion of refrigeration and air conditioning in homes
and public buildings was surely in large part due to
this new, safe refrigerant. You could say it happened
because a guinea pig didn't die!

The Model T in the Window-The Window Air Conditioner

"Cooling of rooms ... bids fair to be at some time an
industry of considerable importance," wrote Rolla
Carpenter, Cornell University professor of experimental
engineering in 1896 in his book, Heating and Ventilating
Buildings. The idea that room air should be "refrigerated" for comfort (the term "air conditioning" did not
exist before 1906) seemed farfetched to all but a small
number of undaunted engineers. The best folks could do
then was use an electric fan! (Figure 10)
In the 20th century, comfort air conditioning would
become of such considerable importance that daily
life, and even population trends, would be affected.
At first, the technology was used in commercial situations where the cost and complexity could be justified.
But, just like with refrigerators, an interest developed
for application of refrigeration to comfort cooling in
residences.
Frigidaire introduced the first successful "room cooler"
in 1929, a bulky split-system that used sulfur dioxide
refrigerant. By the 1930s, such companies were beginning to combine cooling and heating technology for central home air-conditioning systems that were automatic,
circulating filtered, tempered air to all of the rooms in
a house, office or business. But these central systems
were still too expensive for most folks. Then there was

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S E P T E M B E R 2 0 19

a solution. The window air conditioner was introduced
in the late 1930s, a relatively low-cost way to spot-cool
rooms in a home.
How did that happen? This article has discussed electric
motors, automatic systems, household refrigerators and
chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants. In fact, all those innovations played a part in the story of the window air conditioner. Automatic control by thermostat could and was
applied to central AC systems, providing comfort cooling,
and that technology was downsized and simplified for
packaged equipment. The previously mentioned sealed
motor-compressors, initially developed by the household
refrigeration industry after 1918 or so, were adapted for
packaged air conditioning. The development of the safe
chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants opened the possibility of
placing air-conditioning equipment directly into a living
space. Industry was enthusiastic over the prospects, having noted the success of the household refrigerator.
The economic depression of the 1930s stymied the
nascent packaged air-conditioning industry, but the
depression's end saw renewed interest. Although the
first successful window air conditioners were being sold
by the late 1930s (Figure 11), again industry development
was halted, this time by World War II. When wartime
restrictions ended in 1946, the idea of a window air conditioner was pursued with a new vigor. Designs for packaged air conditioners that could be placed in a window
proliferated. Competition and mass production steadily
brought the cost down such that comfort air conditioning was affordable for more folks-you could call it the
democratizing of air conditioning, as the Model T Ford
did for automobiles.7 Forty-eight thousand units were
sold in 1946, as pent-up consumer demand began to be
satisfied by industry rapidly converting back to peacetime production. Annual sales have increased steadily
since then, and today, in aggregate, more than 100 million units have been produced in the United States. And
worldwide, almost that many room air conditioners are
now sold each year.8 Window air conditioners in our age
are inexpensive, reliable, increasingly efficient and portable (Figure 12)-another engineering triumph most folks
don't consider at all as they flip the switch to get cool!

Summary

As ASHRAE celebrates its 125th anniversary, we are
looking back at what we have accomplished in our
profession. This article explored some technology we


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ASHRAE Journal - September 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of ASHRAE Journal - September 2019

Contents
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - Intro
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - Cover1
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - Cover2
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 1
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - Contents
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 3
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 4
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 5
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 6
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 7
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 8
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ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 11
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - 12
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ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - Cover3
ASHRAE Journal - September 2019 - Cover4
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