Forget “Happy Days”; the 1950s were a time of uncertainty, both economically and politically. The decade that began with President Harry Truman and ended with President Dwight D. Eisenhower is referred to in many texts as “the forgotten years.”

It was not so for many manufacturing companies conducting business in the field of air conditioning and refrigeration.

Indeed, in this decade after World War II, the idea of comfort air conditioning increased in popularity as soldiers came home, started families, and helped the middle class begin to expand like never before, leading up to the Baby Boom of the 60s.

Frozen Food

With the invention of frozen food dishes, refrigerators were becoming more and more common in everyday household use. The idea of having a meal already made that could be popped into the oven and done in a fraction of the amount of time of “normal” dinners meant that people, namely women, did not have to slave over the stove for hours.

In fact, in the Jan. 29, 1951 issue of The News, it was reported that sales of household refrigerators for the first 10 months of 1950 had exceeded 5 million units. It was said that “the sales of these manufacturers reached 5,043,110 units. This figure is well above the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) total for the industry’s best previous year, 1948.”

At the same time, Carrier Corp. experienced another problem that was in existence during the early part of the 1950s: shortages in materials.

Material Shortages, Korean Situation

Material shortages leading from the previous decade threatened to dampen any developmental spirit that might have been burning within manufacturers of the air conditioning and refrigeration industry. The Korean situation only added to the material woes resulting from World War II.

Key among the materials in short supply were aluminum and copper, essential at the time for manufacturing and developing new products.

In the Jan. 29, 1951 issue of The News, one headline stands out: “Carrier Halts Sale of Food Freezers to Dealers, Distributors.” The company had begun to experience what some feared would happen across an industry dependent on two materials that were also important during times of war.

The article states, “The company said these materials ‘will be utilized to the best possible advantage in the production of air conditioning equipment.’

“Officials reported that Carrier would continue to manufacture food freezers for limited distribution outside the dealer organization.”

Clearly this shortage sparked quite a serious situation; however, industry experts and manufacturers at the time were optimistic that the trend of diminishing aluminum and copper resources would not continue its downward turn in 1950, and by 1954 would see a great increase in copper supplies. The outlook for aluminum was even more optimistic, with expectations of a slight surplus within two years, by 1952.

With the increased tensions in Korea, Americans became afraid of another war, and all of the hardships that tend to come with it. Shortages of food, liquids, gasoline, and even appliances were all part of a trend referred to as “panic buying.” The idea of stockpiling for the first time included such appliances as refrigerators.

Not that people wanted to run out and buy a dozen of refrigerators, just as they would buy cans of soup. This time those households that did not have refrigerators began to buy them, and those that already had one refrigerator decided it would be a good idea to get a second to keep extra food in, just in case.

This had manufacturers increasing production — not to the point of overextension, but to a point that they had not expected to have to handle. With the growing uncertainty overseas, people wanted to make sure that this time their families did not suffer unnecessarily. This even extended to include “comfort” objects, such as air conditioners.

Air conditioners saw a marked increase in sales throughout the first part of the decade. In fact, at the time it was said that the market for packaged air conditioners was expected to grow from about 250,000 units in 1950, to 1.6 million in 1964.

New Product Lines For Manufacturers

In 1950, Carrier led with the development of five new self-contained Weathermaker units that were designed for use in stores, shops, and restaurants. With its “Humitrol” feature, the company was able to offer a better balance between cooling and humidity control, and at the same time was able to speed up the dehumidifying action when it was desired.

According to a News brief in the Jan. 7, 1952 issue, O.A. Sutton Corp. of Wichita, KS, introduced a line of room air conditioners that incorporated many new features; the new unit was called the “Vorando.”

Coming in ¼ -, ¼ -, and 1-ton models, the Vorando had an outwardly tilted face; twin air directors that permitted directional flow of air to any part of the room (in two directions at one time); pressurized exhaust designed in such a way that positive pressure was permitted, exhausting room air at 200 cfm; and variable cooling control from 7,700 to 8,800 Btuh.

In that same issue, it was reported that Mitchell Manufac-turing of Chicago, IL, had developed an air conditioning unit that would operate on an electrical consumption of less than the current then required to light six ordinary “electric lamp bulbs.”

Lennox Delves Into New Territory

By the mid-1950s, some manufacturers were seeing their companies expand across borders, both in terms of geography (north to Canada) and into different areas within the industry.

According to the history of Lennox, the company was so impressed with how well things were selling in Canada that in 1953 the company built a factory in Etobicoke, ON, Canada, so that it would be better able to serve the whole of that country. A distribution center would follow only a year later in Calgary, AB.

At the beginning of the decade the company was known as Lennox Furnace Company, and specialized in the heating end of this industry. Even though it took some convincing, the company managed to get a toehold in a complex air conditioning business and quickly grew deep roots.

The development of a 3-ton, water-cooled air conditioner by the company in 1952, coupled with an increase in public interest in the idea of keeping homes cool during hot summers, paid off. The company officially changed its name to Lennox Industries, Inc.

A year after the development of that air conditioner, the company introduced the T-86 “Round” thermostat. With its inception, the older rectangular models became almost extinct.

Granted, home air conditioning sales took off in the next decade, but advances in manufacturer development in the 1950s laid the groundwork for industry expansion in the 60s.

Commercial Systems

The Trane Company, coming out of World War II with a new vision on manufacturing, began to expand both its air conditioning and fan lines.

According to the company history, “In 1950, [Trane] began manufacturing its own reciprocating compressors,” allowing the company to begin to show itself a leader in “offering a complete line of large central station, or applied heating and air conditioning products for commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings.”

The mid-1950s was a time of great expansion for the company. Predicting that the future would see a progression of comfort air conditioners in the workplace, “Trane began a new venture into unitary, or self-contained, air conditioning units for commercial use.

“Meant to be compact, the system was designed, built, and tested by the manufacturer at the factory, and delivered to the customer ready for quick installation and operation.”

The systems offered low-cost and fast installation for construction schedules that did not allow time for the more complex applied air conditioning systems.

D.W. Norris, president of Lennox until 1949, looked back on the technological changes he had seen in the twentieth century only months before his death. “I did not foresee automobiles, movies, radio, television, or paved roads,” he said. “What will the people of this community accomplish during the next 50 years?”

Sidebar: 1950s Facts:

U.S. population:149,188,000

Number of unemployed: 3,288,000

Life expectancy: 71.1 years (women), 65.6 years (men).

Car sales: 6,665,800

Average salary: $2,992

Cost of a loaf of bread: $0.14

A/C Leaps in the Automotive World

World War II was over, and in the 1950s many appliances that didn’t necessarily make a mark during the war years were now given a second lease on life.

One such invention was indeed just an improvement on models released before World War II. In fact, the use of air conditioners in automobiles dates back to the late 1930s, when Packard Motor Car Company, Detroit, MI, in cooperation with the Bishop and Babcock Company of Cleveland, OH, introduced a refrigeration unit for air conditioning Packard automobiles.

By the late 1940s, air conditioning systems were being placed in many cars — for those who could afford it. Private companies specialized in installing the systems on an individual basis. They did most of this in Dallas, TX, for millionaires.

However, as is the case with many inventions, air conditioning in the automobile had bugs initially, many of which had to be worked out before it could be mass-produced for cars purchased by the average, middle-class consumer.

In the model year of 1953, automotive air conditioning began to bounce back from its almost two-decade-long slumber, becoming the grandfather to what we all now have in our automobiles.

That year General Motors, Chrysler, and Packard all introduced a system that would cost the consumer approximately $600.

Frigidaire built a system for GM that was available on all of its Cadillac and Oldsmobile models, as well as on its Super and Roadmaster Buicks.

Chrysler and Packard used an Airtemp system; it was only available as an option on the Chrysler Imperial, and on Packard’s Cavalier and Patrician lines, as well as on Derham Formal Sedan conversions.

About 29,000 cars were shipped with systems factory installed in 1953.

Publication date: 04/30/2001