King Of Cool

WILLIS CARRIER So it was the humidity! How a kindly engineer from the Snowbelt helped make the Sunbelt boom

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I picked up some of these nuggets from a wonderfully dated biography by Margaret Ingels (Father of Air Conditioning; 1952). The introduction to this respectful book was written by a Chicago banker, Cloud Wampler, who helped bail out Carrier's firm during the Depression and later became its CEO. Wampler wrote, "The stage was set for my unforgettable first meeting with 'The Chief.' I had already been told that Dr. Carrier was a genius and that his talents lay in the field of science and invention rather than in operation and finance. All the same I wasn't prepared for what happened...right off the bat Dr. Carrier made it clear he had a dim view of bankers...I remember so well the ring in his voice when he said to me that day: 'We will not do less research and development work,' 'We will not discharge the people we have trained'; and 'We will all work for nothing if we have to.'"

The Father of Air Conditioning's first job was with a heating outfit, the Buffalo Forge Co. In appropriate young-genius fashion, his research had soon saved the company $40,000 a year, and they put him in charge of a new department of experimental engineering. At Buffalo Forge he met Irvine Lyle, a gifted salesman and ultimately his partner in Carrier Corp. We'd all know the name Buffalo Forge today if the company hadn't decided in 1914 to kill off its engineering department. Disillusioned, Carrier, Lyle and five other young engineers left a year later to start their own operations.

Air conditioning did not begin life as a cooling system for homes and offices. Nor did it begin life as a system. Carrier's first customer, in 1902, was a business with a production problem: a frustrated printer in Brooklyn whose color reproductions kept messing up because changes in humidity and temperature made his paper expand and contract, causing a lot of ugly color runs.

Carrier could solve this problem by controlling humidity. But in '06, a cotton mill in South Carolina gave him a new challenge--heat. "When I saw 5,000 spindles spinning so fast and getting so hot that they'd cause a bad burn when touched several minutes after shutdown, I realized our humidifier was too small for the job."

One industrial challenge after another led Carrier to make refinement after refinement in his systems. In the early days of Carrier Corp., one of its testing grounds was wet macaroni. The company had guaranteed a pastamaker it could fix a moisture problem. Suddenly there were 10,000 lbs. of macaroni on the floor, in millions of bits, none of it drying worth a damn. The Chief was called in. The Chief arrived. Long trip, cleanup at the hotel, dinner, back to the macaroni factory. All night long, The Chief paced, The Chief thought, The Chief would suddenly leap up and march off down the corridor. By dawn The Chief had a plan: he started with a 48-hour drying time and continued to shorten it until it reached the minimum at which macaroni dried satisfactorily. "We ruined a lot of macaroni," reported one of his associates.

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