Willis Haviland Carrier (November 26, 1876 – October 7, 1950) was an American engineer, best known for inventing modern air conditioning.
Carrier was born on November 26, 1876, in Angola, New York, the son of Duane Williams Carrier (1836–1908) and Elizabeth R. Haviland (1845–1888).
The first Carrier in the United States was Thomas, who arrived in Massachusetts around 1663. There is historical evidence that Thomas was born in Wales in 1622 and that he was a political refugee who assumed the name “Carrier” upon coming to the Americas.
Thomas married Martha Allen, daughter of Andrew Allen, a first settler of Andover, Massachusetts. After standing up against the Andover town fathers in a boundary dispute, she was accused of being a witch. Two of her sons, aged 13 and 10, were hung by their heels until they, too, testified against her.
Cotton Mather denounced her as a “rampant hag” whom the Devil had promised “should be the queen of Hell.” She was arrested, convicted and, on August 19, 1692, hanged on Salem’s Gallows Hill.
Later it was recorded that of all the New Englanders charged with witchcraft, “Martha Carrier was the only one, male or female, who did not at some time or other make an admission or confession.”
The Carriers lived in New England until 1799 when Carrier’s great-grandparents joined an ox-team train of settlers pushing west through the Mohawk Valley. They settled in Madison County, New York and then in 1836 moved west again to Erie County.
There they purchased the farm that became the birthplace and childhood home of Willis Carrier. His father, Duane, taught music to the Indians, tried running a general store, and was for a short time a postmaster, then settled down to farming and married Elizabeth Haviland.
Her forefathers had settled in New England in the 17th century, and she was a “birthright” Quaker — the first in her family to marry outside her faith. She died in 1887, when Willis was 11 years old. He studied at Cornell University graduating in 1901 with a BS in engineering.
In Buffalo, New York, on July 17, 1902, in response to a quality problem experienced at the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing & Publishing Company of Brooklyn, Willis Carrier submitted drawings for what became recognized as the world’s first modern air conditioning system.
The 1902 installation marked the birth of air conditioning because of the addition of humidity control, which led to the recognition by authorities in the field that air conditioning must perform four basic functions:
1.) control temperature; 2.) control humidity; 3.) control air circulation and ventilation; 4.) cleanse the air.
After several more years of refinement and field testing, on January 2, 1906, Carrier was granted U.S. Patent 808,897 on his invention, which he called an “Apparatus for Treating Air,” the world’s first spray-type air conditioning equipment. It was designed to humidify or dehumidify air, heating water for the first and cooling it for the second.
In 1906, Carrier discovered that “constant dew-point depression provided practically constant relative humidity,” which later became known among air conditioning engineers as the “law of constant dew-point depression.” On this discovery he based the design of an automatic control system, for which he filed a patent claim on May 17, 1907. U.S. Patent 1,085,971 was issued on February 3, 1914.
On December 3, 1911, Carrier presented the most significant and epochal document ever prepared on air conditioning – his “Rational Psychrometric Formulae” – at the annual meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
It became known as the “Magna Carta of Psychrometrics.” This document tied together the concepts of relative humidity, absolute humidity, and dew-point temperature, thus making it possible to design air-conditioning systems to precisely fit the requirements at hand.
With the onset of World War I in late-1914, the Buffalo Forge Company, for which Carrier had been employed 12 years, decided to confine its activities entirely to manufacturing.
The result was that seven young engineers pooled together their life savings of $32,600 to form the Carrier Engineering Corporation in New York on June 26, 1915. The seven were Carrier, J. Irvine Lyle, Edward T. Murphy, L. Logan Lewis, Ernest T. Lyle, Frank Sanna, Alfred E. Stacey, Jr., and Edmund P. Heckel. The company eventually settled on Frelinghuysen Avenue in Newark, New Jersey.
Despite the development of the centrifugal refrigeration machine and the commercial growth of air conditioning to cool buildings in the 1920s, the company ran into financial difficulties, as did many others, as a result of the Wall Street Crash in October 1929. In 1930, Carrier Engineering Corp. merged with Brunswick-Kroeschell Company and York Heating & Ventilating Corporation to form the Carrier Corporation, with Willis Carrier named Chairman of the Board.
Spread out over four cities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Carrier consolidated and moved his company to Syracuse, New York, in 1937, and the company became one of the largest employers in central New York.
The Great Depression slowed residential and commercial use of air conditioning. Willis Carrier’s igloo in the 1939 New York World’s Fair gave visitors a glimpse into the future of air conditioning, but before it became popular, World War II began. During the post-war economic boom of the 1950s, air conditioning began its tremendous growth in popularity.
In 1930, Carrier started Toyo Carrier and Samsung Applications in Japan and Korea. South Korea is now the largest producer for air conditioning in the world.
The Carrier Corporation pioneered the design and manufacture of refrigeration machines to cool large spaces. By increasing industrial production in the summer months, air conditioning revolutionized American life.
The introduction of residential air conditioning in the 1920s helped start the great migration to the Sunbelt. The company became a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation in 1980.
The Carrier Corporation remains a world leader in commercial and residential HVAC and refrigeration. In 2007, the Carrier Corporation had sales of more than $15 billion and employed some 45,000 people.
Carrier and all three of his wives (Claire Seymour, d. 1912; Jennie Martin, d. 1939; Elizabeth Marsh Wise, d. 1964) are buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. Despite being married three times, Willis Carrier never fathered any children himself. Carrier was a Protestant Presbyterian.
For his contributions to science and industry, Willis Carrier was awarded an engineering degree by Lehigh University in 1935 and an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Alfred (NY) University in 1942; Carrier was awarded the Frank P. Brown Medal in 1942; and was inducted posthumously in the National Inventors Hall of Fame (1985) and the Buffalo Science Museum Hall of Fame (2008).