Carrier Centrifugal Refrigeration Compressor


The first successful mechanical refrigeration equipment was patented soon after the Civil War, but the large size and high cost of these early machines restricted their use to industrial processes. In his effort to improve mechanical air-conditioning systems, Willis Haviland Carrier (1876-1950) introduced the first practical centrifugal refrigeration compressor in 1922 (pictured here). This machine provided the foundation for safer, smaller, and more powerful and efficient large-scale air-conditioning systems.

Prior to the introduction of the centrifugal compressor--which compressed the refrigerant gas through the centrifugal force created by rotors spinning at high speed—reciprocating compressors compressed the refrigerant by the action of pistons inside cylinders, much like an automobile engine. The centrifugal compressor proved an extremely important advancement and paved the way for "comfort" air conditioning in theaters, department stores, hospitals, banks, offices, and hotels.

Carrier installed this initial compressor at his company's Newark, N.J., offices, where he gave the first public demonstration of the machine on May 22, 1922. Two years later, he sold the compressor to the Onondaga Pottery Company of Syracuse, N.Y., for the air conditioning of its lithography plant. The machine remained in use there until about 1957, when the Carrier Company repurchased the compressor for donation to the Smithsonian. Earlier, in 1924, the Carrier Company had installed centrifugal refrigeration machines in the J. L. Hudson department store in Detroit and the Palace Theater in Dallas, thereby introducing the phrase "air conditioning" into the public vocabulary.

Date Made: 1922

Maker: Carrier Corporation

Location: Currently not on view

Subject: EngineeringRefrigeration


See more items in: Work and Industry: Mechanical and Civil Engineering, Energy & Power, Engineering, Building, and Architecture


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of Carrier Corporation, Syracuse, New York

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: MC.318219Catalog Number: 318219Accession Number: 232896

Object Name: Compressor, Refrigeration

Measurements: overall: 7 1/2 ft x 4 ft x 5 ft; 2.286 m x 1.2192 m x 1.524 m


Record Id: nmah_846092

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.