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.
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