At the start of World War I, “the entire country went into a tailspin,” Willis Carrier recalled. “Those most frightened about the outcome planned to sell their factories.” This was the fear that lay behind Buffalo Forge’s decision to abruptly close Carrier Air Conditioning Company. Energized by the opportunity, however, Carrier and his partner, J. Irvine Lyle, were determined to preserve the franchise they had so carefully developed. Their best option was to form a new company. “If Irvine Lyle is willing to take the chance, and get his staff of engineers to come along with us,” the Chief said, “we could make a go of it.”
On June 26, 1915, Carrier Engineering Corporation was incorporated with Willis Carrier as president, Lyle as treasurer and general manager, and five hand-picked colleagues. It was a true entrepreneurial undertaking: seven young men who scraped together $32,600 in capital with the intention, despite an economic slump and world war, of building a brand-new industry.
In their favor, these seven had led successful efforts to install air conditioning in facilities producing everything from celluloid film to textiles, paper, flour and pharmaceuticals. Not only were they friends who trusted one another, but together, they knew more about air conditioning than anyone else in the world.
Offices were established in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago. In Buffalo, Carrier rented two rooms in the Mutual Life Building for himself, a secretary and one draftsman. “We ended up with second-hand furniture— two desks, a drafting board and stool and a few files,” his secretary said. “We had two wicker chairs for visitors, and Mr. Carrier’s friends would ask him if he had swiped them from a tavern.”
Carrier Engineering Corporation opened for business July 1, 1915, and just 18 days later booked its first contract with the American Ammunition Company in Paulsboro, New Jersey. Ten of the first 29 jobs Carrier Engineering Corporation fulfilled were for fuse-loading plants critical to the Allied war effort. Only Willis Carrier and his engineering teams could bring the necessary expertise and speed to these installations. So the war that seemed to close one door on the Carrier Air Conditioning Company opened another for the Carrier Engineering Corporation.
The Chief also worked to perfect an injector system using induced air flow to reduce operating costs. Ejector dryers would sell profitably for many years, with installations for sanitary ware, fire brick, terra cotta, plaster moulds,flooring and roofing tiles, leather and hides, shoes, tobacco, rubber, macaroni, marshmallows, starch and gumdrops, chewing gum, papier-mâché products, ammonium nitrate and nuts. However, standard air conditioning of textiles, munitions and candy provided the most important sources of business for Carrier Engineering Corporation in its early years of operation.
Every so often an application arose for human comfort, suggesting a future that few but Willis Carrier could envision. The company's second job, for example, was an installation to cool the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia. Other milestones in those early years included the company's first dairy and meatpacking installations, and in 1917—something extraordinary for the times—the hiring of Carrier Engineering Corporation's first female engineer, Margaret Ingels.
In early 1918 the Chief moved his office to New York City; 17 years after meeting J. Irvine Lyle on a streetcar in Buffalo, the two men finally worked in the same location, consolidating and streamlining decision-making at their fast-growing company.
While World War I brought specialized business, it also brought hardship, particularly when the United States formally declared war in April 1917. In a June 1918 memo, Lyle indicated that all but government orders had been sidelined by the war, and Carrier was losing many able-bodied men to the draft. "Bear in mind that there are enough people connected with this organization to keep it going regardless of the draft," Lyle wrote, "and do not think for a minute that we are going to close up shop. When the war is over, we are going to have an organization with which to carry on a much larger business than we have ever done."
In 1918 Carrier Engineering Corporation accepted an order to air condition the new Atlas Powder Company facility in Maryland. In all, Carrier would provide air conditioning for 16 of 18 fuse-loading plants in the U.S. and Canada. These critical installations saved lives by eliminating explosions, and allowed delicate operations to go on 24 hours a day—creating conditions, Lyle said, "that those not acquainted with the development of the art over the past few years would not consider possible."
On Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, Carrier Engineering Corporation personnel poured out of their New York City offices to joyously observe the ticker-tape parade along Broadway. Soon after, the company's services were recognized by the War Department with an award for distinguished service.
The company prepared for peacetime by renting a new plant in Newark, New Jersey, and moving co-founder Ned Stacey from managing the Chicago office to head a newly-formed Department of Research and Development. Tired of relying on sometimes shoddy third-party construction, Carrier Engineering Corporation also launched a new company, Carrier Construction Company, Inc., "dedicated to the single object of producing sheet metal work par excellence, at prices comparing favorably with those charged by the ordinary 'tinsmith.'"
With the end of the war, Carrier was again able to invest in international markets, adding a continental European representative and forming Carrier Engineering Company Ltd. in London.
Carrier Engineering Company Ltd. soon entered the French market at a time when "air conditioning was practically unknown." Its early work was in the motor car trade, and from there it spread to tobacco, rubber, artificial silk, film and leather. Within the first decade, Carrier Engineering Company Ltd. reported that "we have practically equipped every large motor car concern in this Country," the Paramount Theatre in Paris, and numerous jobs in dance halls, baccarat rooms and offices.
Carrier Engineering Corporation's marketing activities also accelerated. In 1919 Esten "Jack" Bolling was hired as the company's first "Publicity Engineer." It was Bolling who created the Mechanical Weather Man, coined "Weathermakers to the World" and "Manufactured Weather," and challenged customers to "Make Every Day a Good Day," a reminder that air conditioning meant efficient production in all weather. Bolling also edited the July 1919 issue of Carrier Carrier (later becoming the Carrier Courier), the first newsletter for and about Carrier employees.
In 1921 Carrier completed its move from New York City by purchasing offices and its first manufacturing space in Newark. "We are now settled in our new home," the company wrote its customers, "prepared to offer our clients, present and prospective, the same service which has built our business from the beginning—Manufactured Weather for any requirement."
In just six short years, with over 200 industries served, Carrier Engineering Corporation had established a reputation for the highest quality work and a marquee customer list. Little did customers realize, however, that what would emerge from the company's first manufacturing plant the following year would become the single most important product in Carrier's first 50 years. While modern air conditioning had made its mark on the way people worked, Willis Carrier and his upstart company were about to show the public how it would change the way they lived.