Father of Cool

July 8, 2002
One hundred years ago this month, July 17, 1902, Willis Haviland Carrier designed the first modern air-conditioning system. Unlike his fellow inventors – Edison, Ford, or the Wright Brothers – his remarkable accomplishment has never been fully recognized.
 Imagine today’s world without indoor sports or summer blockbuster movies – both of which are a mainstay of our culture, but which would have been impossible without the climate control air-conditioning provides. “The fact that we take [air-conditioning] for granted is, in a way, a measure of its success,” says Jon Shaw, manager of Corporate Communications at Carrier Corp., Syracuse, NY.It all started with a problem. Barely a year after receiving his degree in mechanical engineering at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, Carrier was promoted to head of the department of experimental engineering at Buffalo Forge Co. after his self-started research program allowed company engineers to accurately estimate how much heater surface area was needed to heat a given space. Combining a life-long focused reliance on hard data with his lively vision and imagination, Carrier sought a solution for a frustrated Brooklyn printer who couldn’t produce a decent color image because changes in heat and humidity kept altering the paper’s dimensions and misaligning the colored inks. The result was the first system that provided manmade control over temperature, humidity, ventilation, and indoor air quality – “still the core principles of [modern air-conditioning],” says Shaw. Thirteen years later, his remarkable invention spawned not only his company but an entire industry.One of the few people alive today who knew Carrier is 80-year-old Edna M. Littlehales. The daughter of a colleague, Littlehales joined Carrier and his wife after the death of her father and remained close to Carrier throughout his life. Initially unaware of his talents, Littlehales recalls: “As I grew up, I began to realize that Uncle Willis was not just an average person. But his fame and interests never altered his personality. He loved fishing and bird hunting with his two dogs. He always had time for me.”Time is what he gave – to solving problems (sometimes noodling solutions for a year or two), to striving beyond the possibilities of the day, and to giving his avid attention to people, whether it was the young Ms. Littlehales or a customer. Adds Shaw, “We try to recapture and recreate the spirit of Willis Carrier every day, and that is essentially solving customer problems.”As a start in recognizing 100 years of cooling, Carrier Corp. selected Father’s Day 2002 as a theme to launch a special website (www.fatherofcool.com) in tribute to Dr. Carrier and fathers everywhere. Visitors can post stories that tell the world why their dads are cool; read and share other engaging tales; and print out a special “cool” certificate of merit for their dads. Other plans are under way.Geraud Darnis, Carrier president, says, “Despite the immense impact of air-conditioning on humankind, Willis Carrier is still surprisingly unknown. We think he should be rightfully viewed by historians and the public as one of the world’s greatest inventors. A humble but determined man, he truly changed the way we work and live.”

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