Glancing Back: One Giant Leap and Whats in a Name?

February 5, 2001
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1938: What’s in a Name?

In 1938, as both central air conditioning systems and room air conditioners battled for market share, a debate arose over exactly what to call room air conditioners, as illustrated in a February 2, 1938 article.

Expressed during the Inter-national Heating and Ventilating Exposition, Richard F. Roper, president of Pleasantaire Corp., a maker of room air conditioners, said that they should be called room coolers, not air conditioners. One reason he gave was “Air conditioning is a system; a room cooler is an appliance. In the public mind air conditioning is all entwined in a series of ducts and pipes and gigantic chambers and big machinery. And expense — high first cost coupled with substantial operation and maintenance charges.” A room cooler, on the other hand, can be moved and plugged in almost anywhere in the house with little effort or cost Roper pointed out.

This was an unusual stance for a room air conditioning manufacturer to take. Typically, at that time it was the air conditioning system manufacturers who decried calling room air conditioners such, because those were limited-function products that didn’t condition the air.

And yet, for all the debate, everyone knows what an air conditioner is, but who today has heard of room coolers?



1967: One Giant Leap for Mankind

In 1967, the United States was in heated competition with the Soviet Union in the space race. The United States continually worked on improvements to the various spacecraft. One such improvement was in the area of environmental conditions.

Frank Versagi, editor of the News at that time, visited the United States School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base, TX. Versagi took a tour of the flight simulator that the Air Force and NASA used in atmospheric tests.

Working towards creating and maintaining a “shirtsleeve atmosphere” (so that astronauts no longer would have to wear cumbersome space suits), extensive research was conducted to determine the physiological effects of experimental environments on humans.

Among environmental factors studied were temperature, humidity, air movement, and air cleanliness — what we might today call IAQ. During the testing, volunteers were placed in test chambers for a few days up to a few weeks.

The test results: The test subjects tended to prefer temperatures at the higher end of the ASHRAE comfort zone. Humidity levels between 30% and 70% made no significant difference on the men’s performance and generated no comment from them. The changes in air movement drew no comments from the test subjects. Identification of 175 contaminants in 20 chemical groups were found in the test chamber. The contaminants came from test instruments, construction materials, clothing, personal articles, and the men themselves. Other than an occasional complaint, test subjects seemed unaware of smells.

Versagi wrote, “Discussion with both military and civilian scientists conducting the research reveal significantly different attitudes toward some of the design parameters that the heating-cooling industry engineers consider important.” But he pointed out that the tests involved more than just comfort, and the test subjects were military men, which had an effect on their reactions and performance.

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