History of Residential Air Conditioning

DATE: June 9, 2015

Residential air conditioning is popular now, but that wasn’t always the case. As part of our summer blog series on air conditioning, we have put together a timeline of commercial and home air conditioning usage in the United States. Learn when this appliance became a must-have in Louisville KY and across America.

Air Conditioning’s Commercial Beginnings

While earlier prototypes existed in industrial settings, the first air conditioner as we know it debuted in New York City’s Rivoli Theater in 1925. It pushed air through water-chilled coils to produce a stream of cooled air and relied upon a central compressor to keep things cold. Since hot New York summers led locals to flock to the movie theater (as it provided the only air conditioner), the AC also launched the concept of the “summer blockbuster” movie that’s still relevant today.

Rivoli Theater Image
Rivoli Theater

This 1925 invention, by American engineer Willis Carrier, launched the concept of commercial air conditioning. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, these early air conditioners spread through theaters, department stores, office buildings, and even train cars, providing comfort and allowing employees to be much more productive in summer months.

The Rise of Residential Air Conditioning

In 1931, engineers H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman developed the first window-unit air conditioner. These early units featured a similar design to today’s room air conditioner models: A box that sits on a window ledge and cools one or more rooms. One year after their invention, these room air conditioners were available for purchase to the tune of $10,000 to $50,000, Popular Mechanics reports.

Of course, this hefty price tag put them out of the reach of nearly all Americans. For air conditioners to really become widespread, the cost would need to come down first.

In the 1950s, thanks to increased American prosperity after World War II, air conditioning units first became widely affordable. Everyday Americans were able to buy room units and enjoy cool comfort year round. In 1953 alone, 1 million air conditioners were sold.

Things changed again in the 1970s, when central air was invented. The early central air functioned much as it does today: Using a condenser, a fan, and coils, air makes its way through the unit, gets chilled, and gets dispersed throughout the house. These early central air conditioners used Freon as a refrigerant, a substance later revealed to be an environmental hazard.

Since the 1990s, when Freon’s dangers came to light, manufacturers have worked to develop greener room and central air conditioning units.

At present, roughly two-thirds of American homes have air conditioning. American homeowners spend $11 billion each year on AC to cool their homes and consume 5 percent of the country’s electricity to do so.


To get the most out of your air conditioner, contact Kentuckiana Comfort Center. As a leading home heating and air conditioning service company in Louisville and Lexington KY, we have nearly 40 years of experience with residential and commercial heating and cooling. We routinely perform home and business air conditioning tune-ups, maintenance calls, servicing, and installation.

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