Lotus leaves and peacock feathers
The Chinese were also pioneers in mechanizing the fan. About 180 AD, the famed Han dynasty inventor Ting Huan created a rotary fan employing seven wheels, each 10 feet in diameter, by which a single man could cool an entire hall. Later rotary fans were used not only for cooling, but also for winnowing grain and ventilating mine shafts.
That Roman idea of combining a fan with ice or snow resurfaced in the 19th century’s early attempts at air conditioning. In 1830s Apalachicola, Fla., John Gorrie (1803-1855), an American physician, blew air over a bucket of ice to cool hospital rooms for malaria and yellow-fever patients.
Development of electric fans
But all these cooling devices relied on human- or horse-powered fans. Then, a year after Garfield’s assassination, Wheeler (1860-1923) figured out how to apply the fledgling science of electricity to make a fan turn. Drawing on the work of Thomas Edison and Nicola Tesla, Wheeler invented a desktop fan consisting of two bladesunshielded by any sort of protective cagepowered by an electric motor. The fan was marketed by the Crocker & Curtis Electric Motor Co.
Wheeler went on to prominence in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). In 1901, he purchased the library of J. Latimer Clark, a British electrical engineer, and donated it to the American IEEE with the stipulation that the group provide a suitable building to house the Clark Collection.
Meanwhile, the further development of the electric fan fell to Philip H. Diehl, a German immigrant who’d lost everything in the 1871 Chicago fire. Diehl pulled up stakes for the East Coast, where he went to work for the Singer Sewing Machine company.
Fans caught on rapidly. By 1910, Westinghouse was marketing an electric fan for household use with the claim that the electricity to operate it would cost only one-fourth of a penny per hour.
Self-contained window fans, made of plastic instead of metal, were introduced in 1934 by Vent-Axia, a British company. In 1937, the development of a new plastic laminate for coating fan blades, Micarta, made fans quieter and less likely to warp or corrode.
The big chill: air conditioning
Along with the elevator, air conditioning made modern skyscrapers practical. You could even say that air conditioning transformed the nation, cooling the sweltering Sunbelt so hordes of Americans could be tempted to move there.
In parts of the desert Southwest, however, a simple variant on Schuyler Skaats Wheeler’s electric fan continues to cool much of the population: The “swamp cooler,” or evaporative cooler, developed in the 1930s, blows air through water-dampened padsmuch as the ancient Egyptians did. As the water evaporates, it absorbs heat and cools the room, making unnecessary the air-conditioning gizmos Southwesterners refer to as “refrigerated air.”
1734 Frenchman John Theophilus Desagulier invents the paddle fan to ventilate mines
1882 Schuyler Skaats Wheeler invents the electric fan
1889 Philip H. Diehl patents the ceiling fan
1894 German professor Hermann Rietchel publishes Guide to Calculating and Design of Ventilation and Heating Installations
1896 Fans with more than two blades are produced
1902 Willis Carrier invents air conditioning; oscillating fan debuts
1911 Carrier reveals the Rational Psychrometric Formulae, still the basis for the science of air conditioning
1914 Charles Gates’ Minneapolis home is the first air-conditioned house, at a cost of $10,000
1922 Carrier replaces ammonia with less-dangerous dielene as a coolant
1925 Rivoli movie theater on Broadway in New York City gets air conditioning
1931 Freon is invented
1940 The Packard is the first car with optional “factory air”
1953 US sales of window air conditioners top 1 million