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A pioneer in the development of air conditioning, especially automotive air conditioning, was Charles Kettering. As an historic side note Kettering was also the genius behind development of the electric starter for automobiles, leaded gasoline, automotive ignition systems that were not based on the magneto, the electric cash register, and practical diesel engines. As with most geniuses, his experiments were not always successful as evidenced by the development of the first air cooled Chevrolet in 1921, a vehicle that was responsible for the first automotive recall.

The basic principles behind air conditioning were well understood by 1920. As a simple explanation consider a dry sponge dropped into water, and then squeezed. With compressed gas refrigeration a gas soaks up heat and transfers it or disperses it. Just as darkness is an absence of light, cold is an absence of heat.

Kettering experimented extensively with compressed gas refrigeration during the teens. Initially the primary gasses used were ammonia and sulfur dioxide. Both gasses worked well and were efficient for use in refrigeration systems. However, there was extreme risk in their use, and a leak could prove deadly. Much to the dismay of environmentalists, Kettering created Freon, a gas that was considered at the time to be safe and odorless.

When compressed, the Freon became very hot. The hot, compressed gas was run through a set of coils that allowed for the transference of heat. As the gas cooled, condensation formed. As the gas expanded, it became cold. Then when run through a small radiator, it sucked heat from the air.

Perfection of the compressed gas refrigeration transformed American society during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The air conditioned theater became a focal point for towns large and small during the sweltering months of summer. Cafes, restaurants, and hotels that could afford to install air conditioning had a distinct marketing edge over competitors.

Resultant of the size and weight of refrigeration equipment, automotive applications were a rarity. In 1933 a company in New York City that specialized in automotive conversions began adding air conditioning systems to limousines. Packard, a manufacturer of luxury automobiles, began offering air conditioning as an option in 1939 even though the unit consumed most available truck space.

These were manufactured under subcontract by Bishop and Babcock Co. of Cleveland, Ohio. The “Weather Conditioner” option also incorporated a heater. The price, $274 (more than $4,700 in 2017 US dollars) ensured that it was a rarely ordered option. Contributing to the high cost was the fact that cars ordered with air conditioning were shipped from Packard’s East Grand Boulevard facility in Detroit to the Bishop and Babcock Company for installation, and then to the dealer for delivery.

At AIRzona Comfort Solutions, air conditioning is not ancient history. Our technicians are trained in the installation as well as maintenance of modern systems. Give us a call today for an estimate, or for service of your unit.

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America


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