Today, we meet the spawn of
a witch. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
It was a hot August day in
San Antonio, Texas. I was there to name the Milam
Building as a Mechanical Engineering Landmark. I
went from the hot street into the cool halls of
this fine old 21-story Art Deco building. As if by
witchcraft, the weather changed from awful to
pleasant as I entered.
This was no ordinary witchcraft. You see, this was
the first air-conditioned office building in the
Inside, I met representatives of the Carrier
Corporation. They were proud this day. In 1928,
their company installed the original system here.
Of course everyone invoked the name of Willis
Carrier was born in 1876. He was descended from an
Andover, Massachusetts, woman. She was one of those
hanged as a witch at Salem. Carrier's mother also
had some of that creative witchcraft. For she had a
mechanic's instincts. Carrier learned about math
and machines from his mother.
Carrier was poor. He waited tables, earned
scholarships, and sold stereopticon slides to get
through engineering school at Cornell. In 1901, he
went on to work for the Buffalo Forge Company.
There he designed heating and cooling equipment.
He soon saw how little we knew about regulating the
temperature and humidity of air. He went to work on
the problem. By 1911, he'd written the science of
psychrometry. It describes air temperature and
But Carrier did much more. He'd already begun
creating a technology for controlling air
condition. In 1907, Buffalo Forge saw the value of
his work. They formed The Carrier Air Conditioning
Corporation of America as a subsidiary.
So air conditioning spread across America. First
theaters and churches. Then more complex
structures. If you're old enough, you remember the
early air-conditioned movie theaters. They used to
paint blue ice cubes on their marquees.
The Newcomen Society met in 1949 to honor the
witchcraft by which Carrier had changed our lives.
The Bishop of Central New York, himself a member of
that historical society, stood and intoned,
Carrier died a year later. Now the
Houston temperature climbs. And I too say "Thank
God!" for the witchcraft that makes this sultry
climate so pleasant -- all year round.
For the resource of the inventor,
for the will of the worker,
and for the initiative of the industrialist,
We thank Thee, O Lord.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Wampler, C., Dr. Willis H. Carrier: Father of
Air Conditioning. New York: The Newcomen
Society of England, American Branch, 1949.
Ingels, M., Willis Haviland Carrier: Father
of Air Conditioning. Garden City: Country
Life Press, 1952. (Two matters of interest here:
The author, Margaret Ingels, was the first woman
graduate of the University of Kentucky. This book
also has a Foreword by Cloud Wampler, the author of
the Newcomen Lecture, above. Wampler was then
president of the Carrier Corporation.)
Anderson, O.E., Jr., Refrigeration in
America: A History of a New Technology and its
Impact. Princeton: Princeton University
See also, The Milam Building. San
Antonio, Texas, New York: ASME Book No. HH9106,
See also the Carrier website:
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-1997 by John H.
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