The History of Air Conditioning: How Our Ancestors Stayed Cool

We’ve all experienced the hot and humid conditions warm weather can bring with it. Without air conditioning, it’s uncomfortable in the least, and it can pose a health danger in the worst of cases. The struggle to remain cool has been ongoing for centuries. Our ancestors found the heat as irksome as we do in our modern day lives, and sought ways to remain cool.

Geothermal cooling gives way to aqueduct use

Though Willis Carrier, a 25-year-old engineer from New York, is credited with developing the first modern air-conditioning system in 1902, our cave-dwelling ancestors used the first example of geothermal cooling around 10,000 BC. The Egyptians then combated the extreme temperatures of the Nile River Valley by hanging wet reeds in the windows, cooling the breeze as it blew into their homes.

The Ancient Greeks upped the ante with their central heating and cooling systems, which used water piped in from aqueducts. The Romans then improved upon that by using support columns in their villas and bathhouses to transport heated air to warm the space.

The Chinese invent fans and the Victorians improve airflow

Around 3000 years ago, the Chinese discovered that air moving across skin is cooling, so they invented the hand-held fan to produce moving air. Even now, fans remain an integral part of air conditioning systems.

Cooling towers were used in traditional Middle Eastern building design for larger spaces. The towers caught and circulated cool breezes and drew the cool air from underground channels. The Victorians also used airflow to aid in their quest for cooler temps – they designed their homes with high ceilings and large recessed windows, which were optimal for cross ventilation.

20th Century Americans invent the air conditioner

The journey to air conditioning as we know it today started in 1848, when Dr. John Gorrie invented an ice-making machine and mechanical refrigeration becomes a possibility. And while Carrier developed that first modern air-conditioning system in 1922, it wasn’t until 1947 that low-cost air conditioners became available for the public.

Can’t take the heat? Call us!

Now thanks to the efforts of our ancestors, we’re able to stay cool and comfortable – though we’ve come a long way from digging holes in the ground and hanging wet reeds in windows! If you and your family are feeling the heat in your home, Philadelphia Gas & Electric Heating and Air Conditioning has a team of skilled HVAC technicians to help you find a solution. Call us at (215) 839-0057 to schedule that important appointment today!


Dedicated to providing the best possible service for our customers since 1955, our heating and air conditioning customers have Philadelphia Gas and Electric’s promise of quality and value, and we will go above and beyond to impress our customers with our 100% satisfaction guarantee. We are confident that after just a single service or repair call, our friendly staff and service technicians will make you a lifelong, returning customer.