July 17

1902 — Invention of first modern Air-Conditioning Device


Nathan always wondered what kind of medals and awards they granted to Willis Haviland Carrier, inventor of the air-conditioner.  A Pulitzer, a Nobel Prize, a MacArthur Genius Grant…hell, why not give him a Super Bowl Trophy and a Triple Crown, too?

Because summers would be unbearable without air conditioning — not just to control the heat, but to adjust the suffocating humidity.

Between his junior and senior high school years Nathan had worked at a camp, and the indoor spaces were so intensely air-conditioned that one co-worker quipped:  “From igloo to igloo, through hell.”  The igloo was Nathan’s preference, so he volunteered for craft activities and let the other counselors deal with the nature walks and outdoor sports.

In his graduate school days in St. Louis, he had a small a/c unit in the bedroom, and ended up confined to that single room for most of the summer, reading textbooks while the rest of the apartment sweltered.

When he lived in a condo in Flagstaff, the HVAC unit was so loud that whenever it came on, Nathan had to turn up the TV to ridiculous levels so he could hear the dialogue.  He never considered changing the thermostat during his favorite shows — less air-conditioning wasn’t a real alternative.

All his life experience taught him that he didn’t have the constitution to tolerate excessive heat.

So when he designed his underground shelter, Nathan made sure to include a cooling system that would run on generator power.  In the unlikely event, of course…

And then that unlikely event hit.  The ground shook beneath his feet, an intense flash of light in the distance then, after a delay, a low awful rumble.  Nathan ran to open the hatch, pulled it shut after himself and then hurried down metal rungs into the shelter.  More shaking, the muffled sounds of distant explosions, then a menacing silence.

Next were more shakes and rumbles, closer this time.  Nathan realized it was the generator starting up, the grinding of his HVAC unit coming to life.  His air conditioning was almost as noisy as the one in the Flagstaff condo, but that was okay.  It was comforting to hear that it was working.

He turned on the short-wave radio and searched the bands for any announcements about what happened.  He found only static.  That couldn’t be good.  He’d probably have to stay in the shelter for a long while, until the air above ground cleared up.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.  He had 2-year supplies of food and water, and plenty of books to read.  He was safe.

Really, it would be like that summer in graduate school, when he’d been confined to that single room of a/c.  Nathan knew he could tough it out.

Except…he felt a little uncomfortable.  He grabbed his rechargeable lantern and went to examine the thermostat.  The lever pointed to “Cool,” and the display read “68.”

It felt warmer than that.  By a lot.

Nathan waved a hand in front of the nearest ventilation duct.  The air felt like the gust from the tailpipe of a passing bus…the blast after opening an oven door.

Flipping thermostat switches produced no discernible effect.  The unit continued to rumble.

He’d paid contractors to build the shelter, to install the generator and other equipment.  He had no knowledge of how to fix things on his own.  Nathan tried to reach help through his cell phone but, as expected, got no signal.

Warm air continued to blow from the floor vents.  He stacked books over them, to hold down the heat, but the room still grew warmer and warmer.

This isn’t what I planned for, Nathan thought.  The igloo.  I wanted the igloo…