Throwback Thursday: Willis Carrier, Inventor of modern air-conditioning

Born on November 26, 1876, in Angola, New York to Duane Williams Carrier and Elizabeth R. Haviland, Willis Carrier invented the first electrical air conditioning unit in 1902 and went on to found the Carrier Corporation in 1915. The company is now a world leader in the manufacturing and distribution of heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration solutions.


Although Carrier went on to complete his bachelor’s degree in engineering from Cornell University in 1901, as a child he had difficulty grasping the concept of fractions. His mother identified this problem and taught him to understand fractions by comparing slices of an apple to the whole. This lesson made a lasting impact on him, teaching him the value of intelligent problem-solving.

On a foggy Pittsburgh train platform in 1902, Carrier was looking through the mist when the idea struck to create fog in order to dry air by passing air through water. This would result in air with specific amounts of moisture in it. Within a year, Carrier completed his invention to control humidity, a breakthrough which became the fundamental building block for modern air conditioning.

After working on this for a few more years, Carrier was granted U.S. Patent 808,897 for an Apparatus for Treating Air in 1906which became the world’s first spray-type air conditioning equipment. It was designed to humidify air by heating water and to dehumidify by cooling water.

By 1914, Carrier’s employer of 12 years, The Buffalo Forge Company, decided to restrict its activities entirely to manufacturing during World War I. Because of this decision, seven engineers pooled together their life savings of $32,600 and started Carrier Engineering Corporation in New York on June 26, 1915.

The company encountered financial difficulties surrounding the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 and in 1930, Carrier Engineering Corp. merged with the Brunswick-Kroeschell Company and the York Heating & Ventilating Corporation to form the Carrier Corporation. Willis Carrier was named Chairman of the Board.

Willis Carrier was awarded an engineering degree by Lehigh University in 1935 and an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Alfred (NY) University in 1942 for his contributions to the industry. In 1942, he was awarded the Frank P. Brown Medal and after his death he was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame (1985) and the Buffalo Science Museum Hall of Fame (2008). In 1998, he was named one of TIME magazine‘s “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century”.

He died on October 7, 1950, in New York. But his legacy lives on today as the company he founded continues to reinvent the industry and shape the world we live in.

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