Air conditioning

The inventor who allowed his employees to stare into the sky

Willis Haviland Carrier (Angola, New York, November 26, 1876 – New York, October 7, 1950)

Willis Haviland Carrier was born on a farm in the American village of Angola, on the east coast of Lake Erie. When asked where he got his ideas from, he invariably told of an incident from his youth.

One day his mother had an idea to teach her child to count. "She told me to get a basket of apples from the basement," Carrier says. “She made me cut some apples in half, others into quarters, and still others into eighths.

And then I had to learn to add and subtract with the pieces. The pieces took on a different meaning for me. It seemed as if no problem could be difficult for me. Since then I just cut each problem into pieces until they were all very simple pieces.

That way I have always been able to solve any problem.'

Carrier was an only child on a farm inhabited by only adults, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles. He withdrew and played games of his own making. His family was so poor that it was very difficult for him to finish his secondary education.

He worked as a teacher for three years. Then he obtained a scholarship to the renowned Cornell University. But to pay for his room and his food, he had to mow lawns and fill ovens. In his final year he ran a laundry with other students.

He graduated as an engineer and found work in a company where he designed heating systems for drying wood and coffee. His wages in those days were ten dollars a month.

He studied the moisture content in the air and designed a system to extract moisture from the air using an ammonia compressor. His flash of genius – his own words – "fell" one foggy night while waiting for a train in Pittsburgh.

When the train arrived, the relationship between temperature, humidity and dew point was obvious to him. How could you influence the temperature of the air with the control of the moisture content?

With his idea of the 'dew point control' he laid the foundation for the air conditioning industry. The principle is very similar to that of a refrigerator: it's all about evaporation and condensation.

The natural heat in the refrigerator is absorbed by the evaporator and released by the condenser at the back of the refrigerator.

A Brooklyn printer came knocking on Carrier's door one day in 1902 because the cold and heat caused his stock of paper to shrink and expand. As a result, he could not precisely line his color print. Carrier constructed a machine for him to control the temperature and humidity.

Cold water ran through the heating pipes, the humidity in the air condensed on the cold pipes and the temperature dropped.

At the outbreak of the First World War, his boss shut down the research department. Together with six other disappointed engineers and especially one legendary salesman, Carrier set up his own company in 1915 with little money.

Initially, air conditioning was used exclusively to cool factories or machines. The first movie theater followed in 1925: the Rivoli Theater on Times Square in New York City. The Paramount Pictures boss had traveled to the East Coast himself to experience the cooling sensation.

The tycoon was delighted. Sales of the Rivoli rose spectacularly. The investment was paid back in three months. Five years later, the United States had 300 air-cooled movie theaters. Then came Congress, the US parliament, in Washington.

The Great Depression of the 1930s halted sales. Carrier needed money. The Chicago banker who bailed Carrier out later described his encounter as follows: "People told me that Carrier was a genius, that he had eighty patents to his name, that he was strong as a man of science, but weak when it comes to finances.' The first thing Carrier said was that he didn't think much of bankers and didn't trust them at all. The second that a lender should never require him to cut back on research and development. Third, that he would never fire people he had trained himself. "And if we have to, we're all willing to work for free," Carrier said. The banker, who later became general manager of the firm, was impressed. And the Carrier company would be and remain the number one in the world in air conditioning from then on. On European motorways, for example, you see many trucks with an air conditioning module on top of the driver's cabin and the Carrier brand name.

Because the English word carrier also means 'carrier', the brand name is hardly noticeable to the layman.

Willis Carrier was the kindest man imaginable, his employees said, incredibly humble and often very funny. He got everything done from everyone and he had vision. He was a firm believer in teamwork and coaching long before management consultants discovered themes.
“The time you see an employee staring into the sky thinking is not lost time,” said Carrier. "I know that from my own experience." He married three times. Twice he was a widower. He worked and studied until his death in 1950, when he was 73.

He is buried on his beloved Lake Erie.

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