It seems strange to think there was a time before the car air conditioner. It means people used to drive automobiles without the air conditioning unit, and someone had to invent the concept first! Just about everyone uses the car air conditioner, so it’s seen as an invaluable part of any vehicle.
The fun thing about such inventions is that we get to look at the invention, the timeline, and the evolution. It’s food for thought that deserves more attention than it gets. Here’s a quick dive into the invention of the air conditioner!
Who invented the car air conditioner?
The invention of the car air conditioner started with the patent for the “Air Cooling Unit for Automobiles,” developed by Ralph Peo of Houde Engineering.
The car air conditioner’s key contributors (and evolution)
- CadillacThe first company to develop the closed body car
Cadillac developed the first closed body car, an act that spurred the development of the first car air conditioner due to the design of the vehicle.
- Ralph PeoPatented the “Air Cooling Unit for Automobiles”
Developed the patent for the very first car air conditioner. With the design for the air cooling unit in place, it wasn’t long before car manufacturing companies got to work.
- PackardThe first automobile manufacturer to have the car air conditioner in vehicles
Called the “Weather Conditioner,” Packard ordered the production of the car air conditioner for 2,000 units. That said, it was commercially unsuccessful due to a variety of reasons.
- ChryslerDeveloped the modern car air conditioner
Following the experiments of Packard, Chrysler developed a more advanced version of the car air conditioner. It was called the Airtemp.
- Nash-KelvinatorDevelopers of the Nash integrated system
The Nash Ambassador was the first automobile to develop the first compact and affordable car air conditioner.
When was the car air conditioner invented?
The first car air conditioner was patented on the 7th of October, 1935. Considering the first closed body vehicle was released in 1910, it took a surprising amount of time for manufacturers to develop the car air conditioner.
A brief history of the car air conditioner
The brief history of the car air conditioner wouldn’t be complete without first starting with closed body vehicles. While it’s understandable that open body cars wouldn’t need an air conditioning unit, Cadillac’s release of closed body automobiles marked a considerable change. Suddenly, people were looking into ways to potentially cool a vehicle from the inside, and Ralph Peo of Houde engineering was up to the challenge.
He was the person to invent the air conditioner, known as the “Air Cooling Unit for Automobiles,” and he patented the design on the 7th of October, 1935. With the design finally possible, many different car manufacturers experimented on the cooling unit. Packard was the first to make a difference, which released the first commercially available air conditioning unit for vehicles. Unfortunately, it was still relatively young in the development process, which meant it was inefficient and extremely expensive. As a result, it was not a commercial success, and Cadillac was forced to discontinue it around 1941.
As far as the modern car air conditioner goes, Chrysler developed a proper cooling unit design for their vehicles. That said, it would not have been possible without Packard first taking the plunge. The Chrysler Imperial had the Airtemp system, which was efficient and capable of quickly cooling the vehicle.
Just one year later in 1954, the Nash-Kelvinator corporation released a front-end air conditioning system with fully integrated heating and ventilating. While Chrysler had developed the first modern car air conditioner, it would be the Nash Ambassador that completed the circle. After the release of such a unit, the car air conditioner would continue to make advancements, growing into the seamless system we know today.
The car air conditioner timeline
- 1910Release of the closed body vehicle
Cadillac’s release of the closed body automobile spurred the development of an air conditioning system for cars.
- 1935The “Air Cooling Unit for Automobiles” is patented
Ralph Peo designed the first car air conditioner, patenting the design and getting things started. It would be this patent that urged car manufacturers to give it a shot.
- 1939Packard’s experiment
As the very first commercially available car air conditioner, it’s natural that it would run across a few speed bumps. The option had to be discontinued in 1941 for many reasons.
- 1953The Chrysler Airtemp
While the Airtemp was already developed for the Chrysler building, it was remade for use in automobiles, making it the first modern car air conditioner.
- 1954The Nash Ambassador
Nash-Kelvinator corporation released a front-end air conditioning system with fully integrated heating and ventilating. It was the design that helped push car air conditioners into the modern era.
Where was the car air conditioner invented?
The first car air conditioner was patented by Ralph Peo in New York.
The importance of the car air conditioner
- A necessity due to the design of vehicles at the time
While automobiles started with an open body design, it was only a matter of time before the closed body design hit the market. At that point, proper ventilation and cooling system was needed. If not for the invention of the closed body car, the car air conditioner might not have been introduced!
- A step forward in delivering a compact experience
Air conditioners already existed at the time, but they were large and unwieldy. It didn’t seem possible to develop such a thing for vehicles, but the desire to deliver a comfortable and compact experience led to the production of the car air conditioner.
- An invaluable part of vehicles today
There’s no denying that no vehicle today would be released without even a rudimentary air conditioning system. It’s become such an invaluable part of cars that the unit will never go out of style.
- More potential on the horizon
There’s quite a bit more to learn about modern air conditioning. It’s something that will continue to see progress over time, even if the changes are not immediately noticeable.
The car air conditioner by the numbers
- 2,099,227The US patent number of the “Air Cooling Unit for Automobiles.”
- 2,000The number of units released with the first commercially available car air conditioner in 1939. Too bad it wasn’t a big hit!
- 274The first commercially available car air conditioner costs $274 to install. When you adjust for inflation, that amounts to $5,338.
- 12After Packard failed to wow the market, it took 12 years of planning and development for Chrysler to develop a viable modern car air condition.
Five facts about the car air conditioner
- The ban on R12
Back in the day, car manufacturers would use a refrigerant known as R12 on their car air conditioners. It was eventually seen to have a terrible effect on the ozone layer, which was why the refrigerant was banned.
- A push on environmental impact
The reason why so many car manufacturers are still working to advance the field of air conditioning is the fact that the environmental impact is very much an issue. Manufacturers are looking to develop advanced cooling units with less of an environmental impact.
- The reason the first car air conditioner failed
The primary reason why the first car air conditioner failed was due to how difficult it was to manage and the overall price.
- The most popular years
When it came to the overall popularity of car air conditioners, they were at their peak around 1961-1964. Development of the units tripled during these years.
- The importance of the Nash-developed car air conditioner
Nash-Kelvinator corporation released a front-end air conditioning system with fully integrated heating and ventilating. It was so popular that the design still sees use to this day.
FAQ about the car air conditioner
- Do car air conditioners have an impact on the environment?
Yes, there’s an impact on the environment, but not nearly as much as when it was first introduced. Car manufacturers are hard at work trying to find ways to balance things out and develop a cleaner method for cooling and ventilating cars.
- Just how important is the development of car air conditioners?
The car air conditioner touched on quite a few things. For example, the inception of the car air conditioner led to the overall design of more compact and efficient cooling units. It also served as an experimental testbed for how car manufacturers can push for success without hurting the environment in the process. Considering how many people use cars these days, it’s undoubtedly at the forefront of progress.
- Will the design of car air conditioners change in the future?
Who’s to say what time has in store for us? While the design of the car air conditioner seems like it’s going to last, car manufacturers are constantly making changes, even if it looks like all air conditioning units are the same.