The Design Evolution of the Air Conditioner, Part 2

The Design Evolution of the Air Conditioner, Part 2

As we saw in Part 1, the earliest domestic air conditioners (like the one above) were upright-piano-sized console units putting out up to 24,000 BTUs. But in the mid-1930s, some companies figured that smaller, more manageable air conditioners in the 3,500-7,000 BTU range–good enough to cool a single room or office–might be more desirable to consumers.

Thus in 1936, the Pleasantaire Corporation released this sleek, diminutive, 4,000-BTU window-mounted model called the Northwind:

(I love points #5, 6 and 7 in the advertisement directly above. Point #5 probably meant it drowned out noise, while points #6 and 7 are probably good ol’ B.S.)

This sleeker design was apparently not very effective or didn’t sell well–it was retired after just two years on the market. In 1938 Pleasantaire began producing a very different-looking machine. This design was slightly more powerful at 6,000 BTUs, and resembled a radio, aesthetically speaking:

By 1939 the preferred form factor evolved drastically, with consoles on the outs; this was something like going from mainframe computers to personal PCs, and window-based units became all the rage.

Below is the 1939 “Cool Wave” air conditioner. Interestingly, it was released as a joint effort between the York Ice Machinery Company and radio manufacturer Philco, and I believe you can see some radio DNA in this design as well as Pleasantaire’s:

By 1940, Carrier jumped into the window-unit game. Their Weathermaker De Luxe had a bolder, more contemporary design than the Cool-Wave, splitting the louvers between the front and sides of the unit, and adding a contrasting visual element to the front:

Philco-York responded in 1941 with this “sensational, new” waterfall-front design:

Alas, by the end of 1941 America had been pulled into the Second World War. Air conditioner development would be largely halted for the next four years.

Stay tuned for Part 3.