Air-Conditioning Costs Fell by 97 Percent Since the 1950s

Thank God and Willis Carrier — air-conditioning costs fell a bunch since the 1950s — here are Alexander Hammond and Gale Pooley:

With all the talk of rising heat, we should be thankful that free commerce has provided us a safe retreat.

Last week, heatwaves resulted in record-breaking temperatures across Europe. The United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands all experienced their highest temperatures since records began. Across the pond, the weather wasn’t much better, with more than two-thirds of the United States being gripped by what the Washington Post described as a “potentially deadly heatwave.”

With all that sweltering weather, it is worthwhile to take a moment and think about air-conditioning—the simple invention that provides us respite from the summer heat, enables humans to inhabit previously inhospitable places, increases our work productivity, and has saved millions of people from suffering heat-related deaths. It is used by hundreds of millions of people around the world and, thankfully, it is also becoming ever more affordable.

Air-conditioning was first invented 117 years ago in 1902 by Willis Carrier in Brooklyn, New York. Carrier invented the unit for a local publishing business, which was having problems caused by the hot and humid conditions in their factory. Sweltering Brooklyn summers meant that the printing paper in the publisher’s factory would often soak up the moisture from the air, which in turn caused the paper to expand and change shape. That ruined the alignment of colors on the printed page—causing financial losses.

Although air-conditioning was originally used for industrial purposes, during the post-war economic boom of the 1950s, it surged in popularity and its use expanded to offices, hotels, stores, movie theaters, and private homes. One of the most impressive things about the invention of air-conditioning is how quickly it went from a luxury good reserved for only the richest in society, to becoming affordable to the masses.

The time price of air-conditioning has fallen by more than 97 percent since 1952.

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