Dearest air conditioning,

A happy 110th birthday to you, my dirty, dirty mistress.

You’ve come a long way since your Buffalo-based papa, Dr. Willis Haviland Carrier (aka “the Father of Cool”), birthed you on July 17, 1902 in an effort to control humidity in a sweltering printing plant in Brooklyn. Looking back, it wasn't until 1925 that America truly became truly smitted with your chill-inducing charms after making your splashy public debut at the Rivoli Theatre in Times Square. And things haven't quite been the same since. By 1965, one in every 10 homes in America had installed you, a number that's dramatically increased over the last 40 years. Your current popularity, in China at least, shows no signs of wavering and, to this day, you remain a lifesaver, a crutch, an object of envy and debate, a maker of both weaklings and champions, an energy-hogging contributor to global warming, and my best friend that I love to hate.

I apologize that I’m a full day late with my well wishes but I was too busy yesterday baking a moist and delicious Funfetti® cake that I presented to your GE-manufactured descendants that currently reside in two windows — bedroom and living room — of my apartment. Or not.

Here in Brooklyn, not too far from your very first home, the temperature hovered around 100 degrees on your birthday proper so the very last thing that I wanted to do, aside from go outside for a jog, was to turn on my oven. Besides, I was far too busy simultaneously freaking out about how I’m going to pay my electric bill, checking out Google Street View imagery of Antarctica, strategically positioning portable fans, fielding conservation alert texts from ConEdison (thanks CoolNYC!), and trying to figure out methods in which to use you less without melting. I even took the time to review a couple basic efficiency tips kindly sent along to me by your relatives at the Carrier Corporation, one of which, “In hot weather, keep the thermostat at an even, comfortable level (75 – 78⁰ F) to help reduce energy use and utility costs,” I’ve really taken to heart as of late.

Obviously, I had a busy day and you played a large part of it.

Reads a New York Times article published on your big day:

A junior engineer from a furnace company [Dr. Carrier] figured out a solution so simple that it had eluded everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to the naval engineers ordered to cool the White House when President James A. Garfield was dying: controlling humidity. 'If you could keep humidity at a balanced rate,' said Marsha E. Ackermann, the author of 'Cool Comfort: America’s Romance With Air-Conditioning' (Smithsonian Books, 2002), 'it would not seem so sweltering and things would not be dripping all over.'

It was a world-changing innovation. 'Air-conditioning, in the broad sense, had a profound effect on the way people lived and worked,' said Bernard A. Nagengast, an engineering consultant who specializes in the history of air-conditioning and heating. 'It allowed industry to operate in ways it couldn’t operate before, in places it couldn’t operate before.'

It’s probably a touch unrealistic to also wish you a happy retirement at this point as I, and much of America, continue you to need and rely on you (funny enough, I actually wasn’t fully familiar with your chilly charms, in a residential context at least, until my early 20s when I moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Northeast). Moving forward, however, I think it’s time we take a look back at the cooling techniques we employed before you were born. Here’s hoping that by the time you reach the ripe old age of 120, things are a lot different.

Anyways, don’t mean to keep you as I know you’ve been extremely busy for you as of late ... this summer has been brutal with a capital B. Since I never got around to baking that cake, here's a link to a bunch of videos of adorable dogs enjoying you. And please, if you see your old friend the shopping mall around, please wish it a happy 60th for me.

Yours in comfort,


Car image: AldenJewell/Flickr

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

A belated 110th happy birthday to you, air conditioning
I write a belated birthday note to Willis Carrier's world-changing invention known as air conditioning. A day late, yes, but it was too hot out yesterday to cel