Celebrating American Innovation: Willis Carrier

Inventor Spotlight

This month, C4IP recognizes American engineer and inventor Willis H. Carrier (1876-1950), who transformed climate control by developing and patenting the first modern air conditioner.

Willis H. Carrier was born on November 26, 1876. His parents, Duane Williams Carrier and Elizabeth R. Haviland raised him on their dairy farm near Buffalo, New York. Growing up as an only child, and working on the farm, Willis developed a strong work ethic that would endure throughout his life.

In 1902, one year after graduating from Cornell University with a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, he designed the world’s first modern air conditioning system. He filed a patent for his invention in 1904. Prior to Willis’ breakthrough, cooling systems were limited to ventilation methods. His Apparatus for Treating Air — U.S. Patent #808897 — “created a mechanical means to control both temperature and humidity, as well as the cleanliness and circulation of air.”

Recognizing the enormous potential of his invention, Willis co-founded the Carrier Engineering Corporation in 1915 and opened up offices in New York City, Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia. By the time of his death in 1950, Willis solidified his legacy as a visionary inventor and entrepreneur. His patented technology laid the scientific foundation for the entire climate control industry. And his company — born from this technology — revolutionized the way people live and work.

Today, Carrier is the “world leader in heating, air conditioning and refrigeration solutions” and provides services to over 200 industries. The company operates 51 factories and 39 research and design centers across the world — employing 53,000 people and serving customers in more than 180 countries.

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