King Of Cool

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

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 3)

For the first two decades of air conditioning, the device was used to cool machines, not people. Eventually, deluxe hotels and theaters called in Carrier. Three Texas theaters, I am pleased to report, were the first to be air-conditioned (the claims of Grauman's Metropolitan in Los Angeles in this regard are to be ignored). The hot air generated by Congress was cooled by Carrier in 1928-29--and needs it again today. But it was not until after World War II that air conditioning lost its luxury status and became something any fool would install, either to appeal to customers or to increase the efficiency of employees.

Willis Carrier, who read and sought out knowledge until his death at 73, married three times (twice a widower) and adopted two children, neither of whom survive. In classic American-businessman fashion, he was a Presbyterian, a Republican and a golfer.

Alas, there is a downside to this tale. Scientists now believe the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCS), used in refrigeration systems are largely responsible for blowing a hole in the ozone, and that will cause potentially zillions of cases of skin cancer, cataracts and suppressed immune systems. That's quite a big Oops! for our exemplary Horatio Alger figure.

The First Rule of Holes is: When You are IN one, Stop Digging; and that is what Carrier's namesake has done. In 1994 the company, now part of giant United Technologies, produced the first chlorine-free, non-ozone-depleting residential air-conditioning system. It has since announced the production of two generations of chlorine-free cooling units, well before the Montreal Accords or the still unratified Kyoto Accords have come into play. Much in the fashion of its founder, the company is trying to fix all this without a grand scheme, but simply by doing the next right thing.

On the whole, the premise that technology got us into this mess and technology will surely get us out seems to be a dubious proposition. But if you had your druthers, wouldn't you really want to see the biologists backed up by engineers? Rachel Carson backed by Will Carrier: The Chief really did know how to get things done. Molly Ivins' latest book is You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You. She lives in Texas

Clarence Birdseye

Birdseye started out with a fan, salt brine and ice and showed what deep freeze could do. Dining has never been so effortless; last year frozen-food sales topped $67 billion.

Most people subjected to arctic weather don't dream up more ways to keep things cold, but Clarence Birdseye was rarely predictable. In 1912 he traveled to Newfoundland to seek his fortune trading pelts. He found it under the unlikeliest circumstances. A naturalist and keen observer, Birdseye spent hours watching Inuits fish, noticing how their catch would freeze almost instantly upon emerging from the icy sea. What intrigued him was that the fish remained flavorful and flaky when thawed — even months later. He doused barrels of fresh cabbage in salt water, exposed them to freezing winds and eureka! Mealtime would never be the same. Birds Eye Frosted Foods debuted in 1930. Birdseye eventually came in from the cold to obtain some 300 patents, including a dehydration technique.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next Page