Cooper, Gail. Air-Conditioning America
Early air-conditioning systems required that buildings -- and, consequently, people's activities -- be organized around technical requirements. The question became, then, not simply whether to air-condition buildings, but what form the technology would take and who would determine that configuration. The public discussion was widely based and included workers, factory owners, public health officials, laboratory researchers, school reformers, electrical manufacturers, public utilities, and homeowners. Although most people in these groups were not qualified to critique the design of air-conditioning systems in terms of the mechanics of condensers and compressors, they showed a keen interest in such elements of atmospheric control as recirculation, air volume, temperature, and humidity. thus, the debate ranged from abstract issues, such as the proper relationship between mechanical civilization and nature, to practical concerns, such as schoolroom odors.
The legacy of this struggle is two distinct traditions in the deployment of air conditioning. One is the choice of design professionals, engineers and architects, who favor a controlled and rational system, a building that is so integrated with its mechanical services that it becomes a machine itself and is controlled by technical authority. A second is the choice of some users, who want an interior that is more comfortable but not necessarily ideal and who favor a technology that is above all flexible and responsive to the consumer's needs.
The first is represented by the powerful central air-conditioning systems found in modern hotels and office buildings, which most nearly achieve the ideal of man-made indoor weather; the second is represented by the affordable and portable window air conditioner with its small blast of cold air.
As air-conditioning engineers increasingly became concerned with controlling production process, they began to argue the benefits of air conditioning in controlling the work force as well. Air-conditioning companies extended their predictions to workers as well as production to appeal to manufacturers. Clearly, the concept of a totally controlled environment lurked behind the idea of man-made weather. But besides the intrinsic appeal of what vision to engineers, it was articulated just when the technical community had begun to concern itself with issues of labor, machinery, and workplace control. Thus at the same time that Willis Carrier presented his psychrometric formula to the American society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) as the basis for an understanding temperature and humidity, Frederick W. Taylor was expounding the science of efficiency. And as Taylor had claimed for his new management strategies, air-conditioning companies portrayed the new technology as an advance that benefited all members of the industrial community. However, the adoption of air conditioning reordered the balance of power between the different parties that composted that community. What is striking about the consequent realignment of power in the factory is the extent to which engineers increased their authority relative to both management and workers.
In both macaroni and tobacco drying, CEC had not been able to improve upon the product of traditional craft practice. Engineers clearly knew less about the complexities of natural materials than skilled workers did. Part of the difficulty that they experienced was a clash between the quantitative approach of engineering and the sensual approach of craft production. In yet another example of this, Walter Fleisher lamented his own failure in drying. He had calculated that to dry skins for a leather company, his equipment should be able to remove 10 percent of the water by weight. Yet even after the removal of 17-26 percent, the client claimed the skins were still not dry. Only the removal of an additional 1.5 percent satisfied the client. "Their method of testing a skin to see whether it was dry," Fleisher recounted, "was entirely by feeling. They seemed to know that they considered was a dry skin, and cared very little for percentages of moisture removed. Once again, engineering approaches to the processing of natural materials failed to replicate older methods, and craftsmen were often the judges who set the standards. In the eyes of these workmen at least, quantification led to oversimplification and not to precision.
Carrier's response to Fleisher's dilemma and his own was to call for more science, not less. He argued that the appropriate level of residual moisture in a properly dried material could be experimentally determined and quantified. He called upon scientific laboratories to produce such data for a range of materials and for engineers thus to arm themselves. The air-conditioning engineer's dilemma was that he was in direct rivalry for control of production processes with skilled workers whose claim to authority was experiential knowledge. Laboratory constants and quantitative standards were essential advantages to engineers who had lost the first round in the match between craft and engineering.
In a way that was consonant with the popular enthusiasm for "science" and "efficiency," air-conditioning engineers thus fell back on science and quantification as a way to bolster the uncertain performance of environmental engineering in the factory. For a large body of workmen at the turn of the century -- especially those employed in hygroscopic factories -- "skill" could be more accurately characterized as the skills necessary to match natural materials to industrial production. Workmen were essentially knowledgeable about the natural world, and factories were inevitably connected to it. That reality made industries that processed natural materials more chaotic and organic than rational and mechanical. It was this connection to nature that air-conditioning engineers sought to break through the adoption of new technology and new standards. However, if a close look at the practice of engineering shows an unsurprising hostility toward labor, it also reveals an ambivalence toward management. Greater authority for engineers was achieved by nibbling away at the traditional prerogatives of both management and labor. The engineer's struggle for control over factory production was allied to that of management but not identical to it. As long as each system was the product of engineering design, custom-made for each factory, the division of power over factory production became a three-way split between workers, engineers, and managers. With that larger voice in the direction of the factory, engineers promoted a technology that had embedded in it a quantitative approach to life and one that reordered the factory around those values.
Air conditioning fit into the category of technical improvements -- like scientific management advocate Frederick W. Taylor's concept of a fair day's work for a fair day's pay -- that seemed to benefit everyone. Air-conditioning companies argued that improved worker comfort led to increased efficiency and greater profits. A Buffalo Forge Company catalog pointed out, "It is a recognized fact that atmospheric conditions have marked effect upon the comfort and efficiency of a workman. Thus, the maintenance of proper atmospheric conditions within a plant pays big returns in comfort and contentment of the workmen themselves and in increased and better production." Best of all, such mutual gains were automatic. Manufacturers did not have to assess or pay for the benefits of worker comfort, nor did they have to compromise ideal processing conditions. One observer noted that "fortunately for the people who work in them, most of the industries requiring conditioned air can utilize temperatures and humidities close to those normally desired for human comfort.
Swayed by such opinions, Mrs. Anderson agreed instead to fund an investigatory commission. New York governor William Sulzer cooperated with the Milbank Memorial Fund by appointed the New York State Commission on Ventilation, a quasi-official commission, funded by Mrs. Anderson. Its members included Professor Charles-Edward Amory Winslow, associate professor of biology at he College of the City of New York: Dwight D. Kimball, a ventilating engineer at R.D. Kimball & Co.; Frederic S. Lee, Dalton professor of physiology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons; James Alexander Miller, director of the tuberculosis clinic, Bellevue Hospital; Earle B. Phelps, professor of chemistry at the U.S. Hygienic Laboratory; and Edward Lee Thorndike, professor of educational psychology, Teachers College, Columbia University. In the public-spirited character of the investigation, commission members served without compensation.
The commission conducted experiments to determine the health, efficiency, and comfort of various types of schoolrooms. It is investigated four common schoolroom conditions: high temperature, odors, drafts, and low humidity. The members studied sensations of comfort, attendance records, and learning efficiency in an attempt to settle scientifically the question of what constituted a beneficial schoolroom environment. The central issue, however, was whether mechanical or window ventilation produced the best climate for learning. The various independent reports commissioned for the study differed on this question, and commission members must have found it difficult to write the summary report. Indeed, in one experiment designed to measure learning efficiency under various atmospheric conditions, Dr. J. Crosby Chapman and Dr. William A. McCall concluded that "when an individual is urged to do his best," the atmospheric conditions made no difference in the quantity or quality of the student's work. Their findings emphasized the human environment rather than the atmospheric environment. The open-air crusaders, however, were unwilling to separate the physical environment from the social.
The final report of the commission concluded, much to the indignation of the engineering community, that window ventilation best served the purposes of the classroom. The support for window ventilation was bolstered by opposition to the costs of mechanical ventilation. The commission perceived its charge as the determination not only of the "atmospheric conditions most favorable to human health, comfort, and efficiency," but also of "the most efficient and economical practical methods for securing such conditions." Putting the matter that way settled the issue. Window ventilation was cheaper by far than any mechanical ventilation system. The commission completed its work in 1917, but the final report was not released until 1923. It seemed that the weight of scientific evidence would be on the side of window ventilation.
The ASH&VE Laboratory
In those years the findings of the New York State Commission on Ventilation were not public, but neither were they secret. The heating and ventilating community knew in advance what the final report would say, and they were well aware that they had lost a highly visible round of the ventilation fight. In this battle between experts the engineers countered with scientific research of their own. Their experimental data in support of mechanical ventilation largely came from the ASHE & VE Research Laboratory, established in 1919 at the U.S. Bureau of Mines in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The laboratory served diverse needs within the profession. One of its most critical contributions was to bolster public confidence in the ventilating engineers' expertise at a time when other professionals were ranged in opposition to them in the regulatory battles.
The onset of the Depression not only made markets tighter, it also presented an ideological challenge to technological development in general. As the economy plunged deeper, critics argued that the economic collapse had been partially caused by overproduction and a runaway technology that increased unemployment by replacing men with machines. In England there was talk of a moratorium on research and development to allow society's moral and social development to catch up with recent scientific and technological growth.
But few in the engineering community felt that technology per se was in any way responsible. The most radical instead blamed capitalists' control of productive technology. The engineer Henry L. Gant had developed just such a critique of the uses of technology in American society following World War I. Struck by the extent to which factory owners used their machinery for profit rather than maximum "efficiency," Gant had articulated a technocratic policy that called for the management of production by technical experts who put rationality and productive gains above mere profits. The call for a more technocratic leadership made a brief, fiery appearance on the American national scene in response to Depression conditions, but soon fizzled. The most politically charged versions of technocracy seem to have had limited appeal among both engineers and the general public during the 1930s. Perhaps Herbert Hoover's election as the country's first engineer-president blighted technocracy's appeal from the beginning.
Industry ambitions were seemly fulfilled by a steady climb in sales. In 1945 just over 1,000 room air conditioners were shipped; the next year, nearly 30,000. By 1950 production had increased sixfold to 193,000, and it climbed to 1.3 million by 1956. Although air-conditioning production increased rapidly after the war, it began its rise from nearly zero. Thus, each year manufacturers achieved remarkable percentage increases, yet a decade elapsed before the volume of sales began to match the extravagant rhetoric about air conditioning's potential.
As late as November 1958 an advertising campaign promoting worker comfort that was slated to run in Fortune and Business Week drew doubts from company executives. The firm used the term "industrial comfort" for these kinds of systems, but the advertising department was leery of its appeal. One internal critic pointed out that in 1959 American industry was "going to want to get labor to work harder. Management will be 'sweating out' a difficult cost-price squeeze and their thinking will not be to provide 'comfort' for labor. They will expect them to 'sweat' too ... It seems to me that 'efficiency' is undoubtedly a more appropriate theme for us to use." Carrier Corporation's chief executive officer, Cloud Wampler, was convinced and concluded that "something other than 'comfort' has to be the keystone of this campaign." Eventually, the industrial comfort campaign was abandoned. In the industrial comfort campaign was abandoned. In the industrial world, at least, comfort still carried overtones of ease and relaxation. Such anxieties led some advocates to try to dispel the association of comfort with luxury, by means of careful language: "The word comfort, as here used, does not imply a condition of languorous ease, but rather a composure of body and mind which will increase the alertness and the productivity of the individual by removing distracting and vitiating factors of atmospheric environment."
Office efficiency proved to be easier to sell than industrial efficiency. Ad hoc tests of federal employees in 1946 suggested that typists were more productive in an air-conditioned office. Typists transferred from a regular office to an air-conditioned space increased their output by 24 percent.
In offices, where workers' pace and discipline were not defined by piecework incentives or assembly lines, claims for intangible incentives to greater productivity, such as "heightened morale" and "increased energy," seemed convincing. The reasoning that greater personal comfort would lead to higher worker productivity found more favor among managers of white-collar workers than it had among factory supervisors. Its acceptance as an aid to office efficiency was no doubt helped by the fact that management and office workers often shared the same general work space.
Wampler argued that, more than local weather, a competitive business climate dictated the inclusion of air conditioning in a new office building. He speculated that whenever 20 percent of the office buildings in any one city included air conditioning, the remaining buildings must air-condition to maintain their first-class status. In New York City between 1945 and 1957, seventy-one large buildings, with 23 million square feet of space, were built with air conditioning. The critical 20 percent level was reached in 1953, when renovation was done in twenty-four major buildings. Wampler judged that Philadelphia had also reached the critical level, and by 1955 Philadelphia Electric Company reported that "air conditioning had become an accepted requirement in all new office buildings." In the utility company's opinion, cost had become "secondary to comfort," for one office building that had cost $10 million spent an additional $5 million to add an air-conditioning system. Rising expectations about personal comfort were believed to be a powerful ally for the industry. Wampler told businessmen: "Tomorrow your employees will find non-air conditioned offices unacceptable. The trend is inevitable." In 1957 a survey of 376 companies revealed that 88 percent rated air conditioning the most important item for "office efficiency."
While central air conditioning needed to be built into a new home to be affordable, window air conditioners could be added to nearly every building. Adaptable, affordable, and cool, they formed an advance guard for the increasing popularity of air conditioning. By 1960 there were about 6.5 million air-conditioning units of all kinds in use, and by 1970 there were more than 24 million, nearly 17 million of which were room units