Willis Haviland Carrier (November 26, 1876 – October 7, 1950) was an American engineer, best known for inventing modern air conditioning. Carrier invented the first electrical air conditioning unit in 1902. In 1915, he founded Carrier Corporation, a company specializing in the manufacture and distribution of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
Willis Carrier was born on November 26, 1876, in Angola, New York, the son of Duane Williams Carrier (1836–1908) and Elizabeth R. Haviland (1845–1888).
After several more years of refinement and field testing, on January 2, 1906, Carrier was granted U.S. Patent 808,897 for an Apparatus for Treating Air, the world's first spray-type air conditioning equipment. It was designed to humidify or dehumidify air, heating water for the first function and cooling it for the second.
In 1906 Carrier discovered that "constant dew-point depression provided practically constant relative humidity," which later became known among air conditioning engineers as the "law of constant dew-point depression." On this discovery he based the design of an automatic control system, for which he filed a patent claim on May 17, 1907. U.S. Patent 1,085,971 was issued on February 3, 1914.
With the onset of World War I in late 1914, the Buffalo Forge Company, where Carrier had been employed for 12 years, decided to confine its activities entirely to manufacturing. The result was that seven young engineers pooled together their life savings of $32,600 to form the Carrier Engineering Corporation in New York on June 26, 1915. The seven were Carrier, J. Irvine Lyle, Edward T. Murphy, L. Logan Lewis, Ernest T. Lyle, Frank Sanna, Alfred E. Stacey, Jr., and Edmund P. Heckel. The company eventually settled on Frelinghuysen Avenue in Newark, New Jersey.
Despite the development of the centrifugal refrigeration machine and the commercial growth of air conditioning to cool buildings in the 1920s, the company ran into financial difficulties, as did many others, as a result of the Wall Street Crash in October 1929. In 1930, Carrier Engineering Corp. merged with Brunswick-Kroeschell Company and York Heating & Ventilating Corporation to form the Carrier Corporation, with Willis Carrier named Chairman of the Board.
The Great Depression slowed residential and commercial use of air conditioning. The company spread out over four cities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania until Carrier consolidated and moved his company to Syracuse, New York, in 1937. The company became one of the largest employers in central New York.
Willis Carrier's igloo in the 1939 New York World's Fair gave visitors a glimpse into the future of air conditioning, but before it became popular, World War II began. During the post-war economic boom of the 1950s, air conditioning began its tremendous growth in popularity. Today, air-conditioning and HVAC is a staple in many American homes. Ceiling fans and air conditioning are often used in conjunction; in summer, a ceiling fan allows the thermostat to be set several degrees higher; in winter, a fan can be set to a low speed on reverse direction to bring down stratified heat from the heating system.
In 1930, Carrier started Toyo Carrier and Samsung Applications in Japan and Korea. South Korea is now the largest producer for air conditioning in the world. The Carrier Corporation pioneered the design and manufacture of refrigeration machines to cool large spaces. By increasing industrial production in the summer months, air conditioning revolutionized American life. The introduction of residential air conditioning in the 1920s helped start the great migration to the Sunbelt. The company became a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation in 1980. The Carrier Corporation remains a world leader in commercial and residential HVAC and refrigeration. In 2007, the Carrier Corporation had sales of more than $15 billion and employed some 45,000 people.
Carrier and all three of his wives, (Claire Seymour, d. 1912; Jennie Martin, d. 1939; Elizabeth Marsh Wise, d. 1964), are buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York. Despite being married three times, Carrier only fathered one child, Howard Carter Willis.
For his contributions to science and industry, Willis Carrier was awarded an engineering degree by Lehigh University in 1935 and an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Alfred (NY) University in 1942; Carrier was awarded the Frank P. Brown Medal in 1942; and was inducted posthumously in the National Inventors Hall of Fame (1985) and the Buffalo Science Museum Hall of Fame (2008).