A Brief History Of Cool

With the dog days of summer upon us, it’s a great time to pay tribute to one of those now standard car options modern drivers take for granted. Check out this timeline of history’s most important automotive air conditioning milestones. 

Michael Faraday

1820 — English scientist Michael Faraday discovered that compressing and liquefying ammonia could chill air when the liquefied ammonia was allowed to evaporate.

1884 — After enduring one hot summer too many, English entrepreneur William Whiteley experimented with cooling his horse-drawn carriage by placing blocks of ice beneath the floorboards and blowing the chilled air inside by means of a fan attached to the axle. The cooling effect of air passing over water was later adopted by Nash.

Willis Carrier

1902 — Taking his cue from inventor Michael Faraday, New York’s Willis Carrier used refrigerated ammonia in the creation of his “Apparatus for Treating Air” — now regarded as the first modern electric air conditioning system.

1930 —An aftermarket add-on known as the “swamp cooler” was first introduced. Popular with street rod owners until as late as the 1960s, the window-mounted evaporative air-cooler got its name from the odor of algae produced by early units.

Swamp Cooler

1939 — Packard became the first car maker to offer an actual automotive refrigeration system. The mechanism consisted of a large evaporator, called the “cooling coil,” which took up the entire trunk space.

1941 — Cadillac produced 300 air-conditioned cars with one major drawback: the then state-of-the-art unit offered no compression clutch and, therefore, no way to stop the air pump when the engine was running. Shutting the system off meant having to stop the car, open the hood and remove the belt.

1953 — The Chrysler Imperial became the first production car to offer “Airtemp” automobile air conditioning, followed by select Buick and Oldsmobile models that also added air conditioning as an option the same model year.

Chrysler Airtemp

1954 — With an eye toward performance, fuel economy and affordability, the Harrison Radiator Division of General Motors developed the first air conditioning system designed for mass-produced cars. The system featured a two-cylinder reciprocating compressor, an all-brazed condenser and a magnetic clutch and was available as an option on all 1954 Pontiacs with V-8s.

1960 — About 20 percent of American cars had air conditioning.

1968 —American Motors was the first mass-market automobile to offer air conditioning as standard equipment on all AMC Ambassadors, which were priced at $2,671.

1969 — Roughly 54 percent of domestic automobiles came equipped with air conditioning.

1994 — Freon (the main cooling chemical in auto air conditioning units) was linked to ozone depletion. New environmental laws required auto manufacturers to switch to R13a refrigerant by 1996.

2003 — Some 99 percent of automobiles in the United States were equipped with air conditioning.

2015 — Looking ahead, a new type of air conditioning for automobiles called TIFFE (Thermal systems Integration For Fuel Economy) will come into production in the next two years and promises to reduce gasoline consumption by 15 percent.