St. Willis of Carrier
I finally got to write an article (for Discourse) that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time: my hagiography of St. Willis of Carrier.
Note that I start the piece with an introduction that, without addressing the issue in any depth, defuses the current hysteria about how the weather is only dangerously hot because of global warming—a claim that is as historically ignorant as everything else about global warming.
The heat wave of 1901 was brutal across the eastern United States, setting some records that persist to this day. One of these occurred in St. Louis where, according to a recent retrospective in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “For nearly seven weeks, temperatures were above 90 on all but three days. It was 100 or hotter on 15 days, including a terrible four-day run of at least 106.”
At a time when the electric ceiling fan was a new invention, there was little hope for relief. To mitigate the suffering, the Post-Dispatch raised funds from its readers to distribute ice to the poor from refrigeration plants at the city’s breweries. Still, hundreds died in St. Louis. It is estimated that 9,500 people died of the heat across the country. Crops withered, and factories closed to prevent workers from collapsing.
There is a lot of talk about the summer of 2023 being unusually hot due to global warming, though it is also thanks to the naturally recurring “El Niño” weather pattern. But as the heat wave of 1901 indicates, dangerously hot summers are an old problem, particularly in the American South. And one man gave us the solution, making civilized life in the summer possible: Willis Carrier, the inventor of modern air-conditioning.
What I’ve always admired about Willis Carrier is how he was an Atlas Shrugged-style combination of scientist, engineer, and industrialist.
He patented his device in 1906 and made continual improvements to its mechanical operation.
But he went beyond that, developing a whole sub-science to support his discoveries. In 1911, he presented to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers his paper, “Rational Psychrometric Formulae,” which described the relationships of temperature, humidity, relative humidity and dewpoint that provide the theoretical basis for air-conditioning. “Psychrometrics” comes from the Ancient Greek word for “cold”: “psuchron.” You could call it the science of comfort.
In 1915, Carrier partnered with a group of young engineers to found the Carrier Engineering Corporation devoted to manufacturing and improving air-conditioning systems.
Carrier’s achievement made him, as I put it, “the man who manufactured weather.”
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The irony is that I wrote this piece during the blazing height of a Virginia summer, when temperatures were regularly up in the 90s. Yet I am sending it out to you from London, where this thing they call a “summer” is miserable and rainy and my chief challenge so far has been to avoid getting pneumonia. I find it very amusing that the British are way more concerned about global warming than America, yet they live in a cold and sunless northern clime. Maybe that’s why the prospect of hotter weather freaks them out so much, because while I have finally acclimated to hot weather as the norm, they have not.
At any rate, I trust that for most of my American readers, Willis Carrier’s achievement will still be urgently needed and gratefully accepted.