Frequently Asked Questions
While Willis Carrier filed more than 80 patents during his career, he is probably best known for a handful of groundbreaking products and ideas. The first, of course, was the installation in 1902 of modern air conditioning at Sackett & Wilhelms Lithographing Corporation in Brooklyn, New York. The second was publication in 1911 of his “Rational Psychrometric Formulae,” called the Magna Carta of Psychrometrics, making available sound science to engineers in the fledgling air-conditioning industry. This document cemented Carrier’s title as the Father of Air Conditioning.
In 1922, Willis Carrier’s centrifugal refrigeration unit (or “chiller”) represented the first major advance in refrigeration since the original ammonia compressor fifty years earlier. Air conditioning could now be provided safely to venues such movie theaters, vastly expanding its potential market. Carrier’s first centrifugal unit was placed on display at the Smithsonian in 1960, where it is still exhibited from time to time.
While the introduction of the Conduit Weathermaster system for multi-room buildings such as offices and skyscrapers in 1940 was another notable achievement, Willis Carrier himself believed that his work on the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics Wind Tunnel in 1943 was his “Brooklyn Bridge,” a task that seemed impossible at first. His design to simulate freezing high-altitude conditions for the testing of complete engine assembly and propellers of prototype planes was so successful that Air Force officials said that he may have helped to shorten World War II by many months.
In 1998, Dr. Willis H. Carrier was named one of TIME magazine’s “Builders & Titans” of the 20th century. The following year, U.S. News & World Report described him as one of 25 Americans who shaped the modern era and “the coolest American of the century,” writing that “Carrier, the ‘Father of Air Conditioning,’ is the man who made the Sun Belt—as well as the factory, the movie theater, and the modern home—tolerable in summer.”
By 2000, of 107 housing units in the U.S., 57.3 million had central air and 23.5 million had room air conditioners. In the southern U.S., air conditioning had become virtually universal. That same year, the National Academy of Engineering selected the 20 greatest engineering achievements of the twentieth century, ranking air conditioning #9, just behind the telephone and just ahead of the U.S. highway system.
When Carrier died in 1950, his successor, Chairman and CEO Cloud Wampler, wrote, “Great as were his scientific achievements—and they were great indeed—it was Dr. Carrier’s ability to teach and inspire that created the finest legacy to the company bearing his name.” Today, Willis Carrier is known as the Father of Air Conditioning, famous for launching an industry that changed the world.
The first Carrier air-conditioner was installed in the summer of 1902 at the Sackett & Wilhelms printing plant in Brooklyn, New York.
Carrier’s first international sale was in 1907 to the Fuji Silk Spinning Company in Yokohama, Japan.
The first installation of Willis Carrier’s renowned centrifugal chiller was in 1923 in the Stephen F. Whitman & Son’s Philadelphia candy plant.
Willis Carrier met Edith Claire Seymour while both were attending Cornell University. They were married in Angola, New York, on August 29, 1902. Claire died tragically of diabetes at age 33 in 1912.
Carrier next married Jennie Tifft Martin in Washington, D.C. on April 16, 1913. Jennie was also a graduate of Cornell (class of 1891) and a biology teacher in the public schools in Buffalo. She became one of the first subscribers of the Carrier Engineering Corporation in 1915 and provided a comfortable home for Willis until her death in 1939.
In 1941, Willis married Elizabeth Marsh “Bessie” Wise in Florida. She was an accomplished milliner and described by those who knew her as fun and full of life. She would outlive Willis by 14 years, dying in 1964.
[Willis had no children with any of his three wives, joking that he was not “heir-conditioned.” He adopted two sons, Vernon and Earl.]
The consensus among genealogical researchers is that Willis’s immigrant ancestor, Thomas Carrier, was born in Wales in 1626.
In Father of Air Conditioning, Margaret Ingels writes that Thomas arrived in Massachusetts around 1663. His descendants, Willis’s great-grandparents, joined an ox-team of settlers pushing west through the Mohawk Valley in 1799.
Willis Carrier was related through his mother’s family to another great American inventor, Elisha Graves Otis. The founders of Carrier and Otis Elevator were fourth cousins.
Carrier Engineering Corporation was founded as a standalone company in 1915. Despite the economic disruptions caused by World War I, Willis Carrier and his six entrepreneurial partners shared the belief that modern air conditioning could change the world.
As the industry grew, Carrier continually reinvented its leadership position. In 1930, the company merged its air-conditioning business with companies that offered heating, ventilation and refrigeration. The resulting series of innovations created the modern heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration industry and inspired new customer solutions that powered the industry through the Great Depression, World War II and the Baby Boom.
More than 40 years later, Carrier again transformed its leadership role to drive growth in new markets. The company was acquired by United Technologies Corporation (UTC), broadening its worldwide footprint and establishing a true global industry leader.
On April 3, 2020, more than a century after its founding, Carrier debuted as an independent, publicly traded company, Carrier Global Corporation, after successfully completing its separation from United Technologies. Its shares became available on the New York Stock Exchange, trading under the symbol "CARR."
Willis Haviland Carrier was born on November 26, 1876, on a dairy farm near Angola, New York, outside of Buffalo. He was the only child of Duane and Elizabeth (Haviland) Carrier. Willis’s great-grandparents had migrated from New England, settling in Erie County. As a boy, Willis attended a one-room elementary school and worked hard on the farm, but also found time to play baseball and swim with his friends in nearby Lake Erie.
Willis graduated from Angola Academy, taught school to help his family through the Panic of 1893, and then attended Central High School in Buffalo where he earned a scholarship to Cornell University, graduating in 1901 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. In the summers between semesters at Cornell, Carrier sold stereoscopes and viewing cards door-to-door. In 1899, he and a partner launched a student laundry business, an early sign of his entrepreneurial spirit.
Willis’s first job after graduation was at the Buffalo Forge Company where he was paid a salary of $10 per week to draft plans for heating plants, boilers, and systems for drying lumber and coffee.
Willis Carrier presented his Rational Psychrometric Formulae on December 8, 1911 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. It provided the first mathematical method of psychrometric calculation—precisely relating temperature and humidity--and soon became the authoritative standard. Along with this paper, Carrier also presented Air Conditioning Apparatus—Principles Governing Its Application and Operation, which was a comprehensive discussion of humidifying and dehumidifying apparatus and automatic controls.
His invitation to present at the meeting was recognition that air conditioning had become an established industry and new branch of engineering. Carrier’s psychrometric chart would be reproduced in college textbooks, taught in engineering schools, and translated into foreign languages. At 35 years old, Willis Carrier had become internationally recognized as the Father of Air Conditioning.
Willis Carrier’s first modern air-conditioning installation was designed to reduce humidity on the second floor of Sackett & Wilhelms’ print shop, a space designed to hold 60 multicolor printing presses.
Carrier targeted 70F degrees and 55% humidity in winter and 80F degrees and 55% humidity in summer. The air-cooling equipment was added to an existing hot-blast heating system previously installed by Buffalo Forge.
For humidification in the winter, 1¼” perforated steam pipes were placed at the base of each of the warm air risers and controlled by Johnson Temperature Regulating Co. humidistats. For cooling and dehumidifying, two sets of prime-surface pipe coils were placed on the inlet side of the fan, selected for a total cooling load of 60 tons.
The equipment for the first modern air-conditioning installation included coils, fans, ducts, heaters, perforated steam pipes and temperature controls. Cooling water was drawn from an artesian well in the summer of 1902, supplemented by a De La Vergne ammonia compressor in the spring of 1903.
In May 1906, industrial engineer Stuart W. Cramer addressed a meeting of the American Cotton Manufacturers Association in Ashville, North Carolina, where he coined the term “air-conditioning.” Cramer had begun humidifying or “yarn conditioning” the air inside textile mills in 1895 as a way to keep threads moist and cloth pliant.
The new practice of “air-conditioning” had expanded features over yard conditioning, including ventilation, cleanliness, and dehumidification. Not long after, Carrier and his engineers began using the term “air-conditioning,” which became universally adopted. “The one and only time I met Mr. Cramer and had a chance to visit with him,” Willis later wrote, “was when we were on a train. I found him to be a fine Southern gentleman.”
While modern air conditioning was born on the factory floor in the early 20th century, by the 1920s and 30s it had become integral to department stores, movie theaters, ships, trains, restaurants and supermarkets. Over time, industrial air conditioning systems became smaller, simpler, and less expensive, eventually entering the residential space as a home appliances.
Today, both industrial and residential air conditioning have become more energy efficient versatile, affordable, intelligent and sustainable.
An air-conditioner provides cool, dry air to an interior space by removing heat and moisture and transferring it outside. From its founding in the early 20th century, Carrier defined air-conditioning as four essential and inseparable factors: the control of air temperature, humidity, cleanliness, and distribution.
Today’s Carrier believes that air-conditioning can also play a critical role in building health and occupant safety and productivity.
The year 1953 might be considered a tipping point for residential air conditioning. Units of room air conditioners jumped from 74,000 in 1948 to more than 1 million that year. Dealers ran out of stock and had to turn away 100,000 customers, the result of the introduction of simple, dependable devices that could be plugged into electrical outlets and marketed as appliances. “The rump of a room conditioner bulging out of the window is becoming as unexclusive a social symbol as the television aerial overhead,” Fortune wrote in 1953.
Carrier CEO Cloud Wampler believed that whenever 20% of the office buildings in a city included air conditioning, it forced the others to upgrade in order to be competitive. In New York City and Philadelphia, this 20% commercial tipping point was reached in 1953. Wampler told business leaders, “Tomorrow your employees will find non-air-conditioned offices unacceptable. The trend is inevitable.”
A 1953 survey by the National Association of Home Builders reported that 40% of the 255 leading builders were planning to market air-conditioned homes in 1953 priced under $15,000.
In response to the changing market, Carrier split into three divisions, each independent in development and design, factory engineering, purchasing, manufacturing, quality control, accounting and distribution. One focused on traditional industrial systems, one on residential air conditioning, and one on allied products such as food freezers and ice makers.
Seventeen years later, The New York Times called the 1970 U.S. Census “The Air-Conditioned Census,” writing, “the humble air-conditioner has been a powerful influence in circulating people as well as air in the country. In the last ten years it has become almost as common a device in the warmer section of the United States as the automobile and television set. Its availability explains why increasing numbers of Americans find it comfortable to live year round in the semitropical heat of Florida, southern Texas and southern California.”
We don’t know the price of all the earliest air-conditioning installations but do have some examples. A Carrier system designed in 1907 for Huguet Silk Company’s weaving plant in Wayland, New York, for example, was delivered for $3,100, or about $90,000 in today’s dollars.
A Fortune magazine article in 1938 noted that air-conditioning had split to become a capital goods industry and a consumer industry. A “central station” conditioning system intended to cool an entire building might cost more than $1 million for a large plant or store and as little as $1,500 for a small house—about $29,000 in today’s dollars. Or, the product might be a self-contained appliance, “generally built to take care of just one room, looking like an oversized kitchen cabinet or a big filing case or a radio console, needing only to be hooked up to an electric plug, a window, and a water pipe, usually limited in its function to summer cooling.” These new consumer appliances might cost as low as $400 ($7,700 in 2021 dollars) in the 1930s, still beyond the means of most middle-class homeowners.
History is filled with stories of ingenious people who tried to stay cool before the invention of modern air conditioning. In some warm weather regions of the world, residents constructed homes of thick limestone to reduce indoor heat. In 3000 B.C., an Assyrian merchant devised an evaporative cooler by spraying water on the walls of the basement below his courtyard. Leonardo da Vinci designed a water-driven fan to cool his patron’s bedroom while Sir Christopher Wren constructed a gravity exhaust ventilating system for England’s House of Parliament. More recently, architects have provided us cooling ideas such as the transom, awning, and sleeping porch. And in every culture, those who could travel to escape the heat sought relief at the shore and in the mountains.
However, not until 1902, when Willis Carrier invented his system of modern air conditioning, would factories and homes be able to provide cool, dry interiors in steamy, hot weather.