Let's all thank the original Mr. Cool Chilling: A flash of inspiration led Willis Haviland Carrier to an invention that would diminish our perspiration.

July 17, 1998|By Stacey Patton | Stacey Patton,SUN STAFF

As you loll around in air-conditioned bliss while the temperature climbs, give thanks to the Father of Cool.

Today marks the 96th anniversary of Willis Haviland Carrier's invention of the cooling apparatus most people can't seem to live without.

Robert Chason, 54, president of Chason Service Engineers in Timonium, won't be on his knees or offering sacrifices today, but when he goes out to fix air conditioners, sell them or enjoy his own, he'll be thinking of Carrier in the back of his mind.

"I definitely owe thanks to Mr. Willis Carrier," he says. "And I owe thanks to God for giving us hot weather. Nothing sounds more sweet to my ears than to hear the weatherman say the words 'hot and humid.' "

Without Carrier's invention, and without God perhaps, air-conditioning businesses like Chason's might have never come into existence.

For many people, the name Carrier only brings to mind the brand name of an air conditioner. AC is so much a part of our lives that it's taken for granted.

It all began, ironically, on a cool and foggy night in Brooklyn. Carrier, a mechanical engineer working for Buffalo Forge Co., was waiting for a train and experienced what he called "a flash of genius": He figured out how to control temperature and humidity.

Carrier had been wrestling with the problem because at the Sackett Wilhelms printing plant in Brooklyn, humid air was causing paper to expand and colors to become misaligned with those laid down on dry days.

Carrier's invention proved successful. His machine moved air over chilled pipes to limit humidity to the desired 55 percent. He later patented the invention in 1906 as an "apparatus for treating air."

From then on, industries flourished with the new ability to control temperatures for film, meat, medical capsules, textiles and other products. Carrier became known as the father of air conditioning.

Cooling for human comfort rather than industrial need began in 1924 when three of Carrier's chillers were installed in a department store in Detroit.

Chason points to a bit of air-conditioning history of his own. His begins as a little boy in Parkville.

"When I was little boy I used to go out with my father to help him fix folks' air-conditioning units," he said. "I'd hold a flashlight for him and watch him work."

Chason's father started the company he now runs in 1946. He says he's been in the business for as long as he can remember.

He also says the air conditioner has evolved over the past 50 years just as people have.

"Back in the old days people used to sit outside when it got too hot," he recalls. "Or you'd go and take a drive into the country or get ice cream to cool off. Everybody would sleep on the first floor in the house or sometimes in the basement.

At that time, air conditioners were only in large commercial buildings, movie theaters and, rarely, in the homes of well-to-do families."

His customers are a testament to the importance of the AC today: His office can get up to 300 calls a day in repair requests.

Pub Date: 7/17/98

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