Glancing Back: Air Conditioning Takes Off

January 5, 2001
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This feature, which ties in with the “This Week in History” box on the front page, will appear throughout each issue of The News in 2001, in honor of the publication’s 75th anniversary. In each feature, news from issues past corresponding to the current week will be looked at, to remind all of us from where the industry and The News has come, which might help us understand the industry today and tomorrow.

1936: A/c Sales Go Through The Roof

In the January 1, 1936 News, the tentative sales figures of air conditioning equipment for 1935 indicated that the dollar volume would be at least 80% greater than it was in 1934, according to W.B. Henderson, executive vice president of Air Conditioning Manu-facturers Association. Henderson stated that according to estimates on incomplete sales figures, the American public paid more than $35 million for conditioning equipment in 1935.

In retrospect, this is no surprise, given the larger economic and technological events around this time — the relatively recent development of air conditioning, especially for homes, and the American economy’s convalescence from the Great Depression.

Willis Carrier developed the centrifugal refrigeration machine (a.k.a., centrifugal chiller) and the Carrier Engineering Company began manufacturing them in 1922. It was the first practical method of air conditioning large spaces.1

In the late 1920s, Carrier took his larger air conditioning units and made them smaller for small businesses. In 1928, he made air conditioning units for residential installations.1

The next year, the stock market crashed, beginning the Great Depression. In 1932 Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran against and defeated Herbert Hoover. With Roosevelt’s inauguration, he put in place such programs as the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) and the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority). One of the intended results of these projects was to put some unemployed people back to work, giving them money to spend, thus helping revitalize the U.S. economy and giving air conditioning sales a boost.

1954: Dissension For The Rank And File

As reported on January 4, 1954, there was a conflict in New York City between unions as to which union refrigeration and air conditioning installation and service workers would belong. At that time, labor contracts in this city between refrigeration and air conditioning contractors and unions had been negotiated by company rather than industry wide. Most of those contracts were with Local 638, AFL steamfitters.

A union attempting to move into this arena was the Building Service Employes International Union Local 32-E. The New York City building janitors were the heart of this union. With control of the janitors, it was simple for Tommy Lewis, head of Local 32-E, to pressure workers who had to enter a building to perform installation or service work. Lewis was murdered on August 28, 1953, but his two lieutenants were said to be attempting to organize refrigeration and air conditioning installation and service workers into an independent union called Refrigeration, Air Conditioning, Appli-ance Installation, Service, and Production Employes Union Local No. 1 (Independent). It was also stated that the Teamster’s union was attempting to organize refrigeration and air conditioning workers under its banner.

1975: Humidification Combats Disease

“An overwhelming amount of medical research indicates that humidification is beneficial for health as well as comfort reasons.” A prominent U.S. researcher, Dr. Charles S. Sale, concluded that humidity control was found to reduce respiratory illnesses, especially in winter, and assist allergy sufferers, said The News, January 6, 1975. As the result of three studies, Sale concluded that “The survival of airborne bacteria and viruses increases as the relative humidity falls below about 50%.” In one study, 169 people with perennial allergic rhinitis used humidification during the winter. The results were that 83% didn’t have any respiratory infection during the winter, 14% had the same number of respiratory illnesses, but were less severe and shorter in duration, and 3% had the same severity and length of time for their respiratory illnesses.

1994: Clearing The Air

Five employees who worked at the EPA’s Waterside Mall location in the Southeast section of Washington, DC, filed suit for respiratory and neurological disorders they claimed were due to renovations made to the building during 1987-1989. Those named in the suit were the building’s owners, SEW Investors, and the managers, Town Center Management. The five employees won the suit and each received individual compensatory awards ranging from $120,000 to $240,000, totalling $950,000 altogether.

Few court cases on IAQ had been decided at this point. This decision worried some in the industry that a barrage of court cases on building IAQ would arise. Jim Dinegar, vice president for government and industry affairs, Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), said that he was concerned that the “body of science is not there” on IAQ, especially in ascertaining safe levels of CO2, VOCs, and other contaminants. Said Dinegar, “We’re not trying to poison our tenants, but we feel frustrated in not knowing what we will have to do” to avoid being sued in the future.

At that point, ASHRAE continues revising Standard 62-89, as disputes mulitply about ventilation’s role in ensuring proper IAQ.

Carrier Corporation website:

Publication date: 01/08/2001


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