A Short History of Automotive A/C
Have you ever considered how great your car’s air conditioner is? To just click a button and have A/C on a whim is a dream. If you’ve ever had a broken A/C or ventilation problems, you know how bad it can be without A/C
In the early days, automobiles were open-body and didn’t need ventilation, but it probably didn’t take long to realize a closed-body design would last longer against the environment. However, in a closed-body design, ventilation becomes an issue. Rolling down the windows is one obvious solution, and some cars even allowed drivers to open the windshield a bit, but a more graceful solution didn’t come along until about 1940.
- 1886: First mass production automobile is patented, the Benz-Patent Motorwagen.
- 1919: The “Kool Kushion” elevates drivers slightly above their seat in order to allow circulation of air, a crude form of A/C.
- 1933: Ralph Peo of Houde Engineering begins installation of the first air conditioning for cars in New York. He files a patent in 1935, which is granted in 1937.
- 1939: Packard begins selling the first mass produced auto with preinstalled A/C. It is not a commercial success due to the cost of the A/C equipment, besides the expense of a car during WWII, and was discontinued by 1941.
- 1953: After a long hiatus, likely to grow the technology, the Chrysler Imperial becomes one of the first cars in over a decade to offer A/C as an option.
- 1954: The Nash Ambassador becomes the first American car with fully integrated front end heating and air, a significant advancement in ease, AC repair cost, and efficiency. It improved on alternatives like those made by General Motors.
- The Benz-Patent Motorwagen lacked just about every modern convenience including A/C, or even a windshield.
- “Kool Kushions” are still sold today, although it’s mostly just seat covers now.
- Be thankful A/C technology has come a long way since 1933. A quote from a piece about the First Air-Conditioned Auto: “The makers foresee the car of the future provided with A/C as standard equipment. In that event many of the inconveniences encountered at present will be removed, along with a decrease in the danger of suffering carbon-monoxide poisoning.“
- Chrysler’s Imperial used “Airtemp” A/C technology that was first developed for the Chrysler Building. It made A/C repair easier, reduced A/C service cost, and perhaps didn’t suffer as much risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning.
- The Nash-Kelvinator corporation originally manufactured refrigeration units and this gave them the expertise to advance auto AC as well as keep the cost low, making their “All-Weather Eye” products highly competitive.
By the ’60s, America experienced a kind of manufacturing and appliance boom that put many competing A/C products on the market, and not just in cars. The vehicle side of air conditioning technology grew hand in hand with America’s growing fascination with futuristic devices like affordable freezers, microwaves, and hair dryers, and by the ’90s it became essentially impossible to find a car without a new A/C system included.
Learn more about vehicle A/C
Want to learn more? As in, a lot more about the history of air conditioning in automobiles? We found a 3 part series called “The History of Automative Climate Control” that covers the subject much more thoroughly. It’s a seminar given by author Gene Dickerson who wrote “Automative Climate Control: 116 Years of Progress”.
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