HVAC – Yellow Fever and the First Ice Machine

Today’s HVAC controls are network-ready, with full color displays and a dizzying array of options to customize the temperature and humidity of a space. These technological marvels had humble beginnings, when the first American-made HVAC controls included a crankshaft and a horse. We can attribute the advent of mechanical heating and cooling to Dr. John Gorrie, who took it upon himself to combat the yellow fever epidemic of 1841. Read on to find out more!

Dr. John Gorrie, a prominent American businessman and community leader in Apalachicola, Florida, spent most of his life dedicated to the betterment and health of the residents of his town. When a yellow fever epidemic hit the area in 1841, Gorrie determined to help those suffering.  

Yellow fever begins with a high fever and insatiable thirst and quickly brings on jaundice, hence the term “yellow fever.” In its terminal stages, the patient vomits dark blood and soon thereafter becomes comatose before death. We now know that yellow fever was caused by mosquitos, much like malaria.  

However, in Gorrie’s day, the prevailing belief was that noxious fumes from the surrounding swampland contributed to the development of the disease. Dr. Gorrie was convinced that cooler air would slow the disease’s spread, and so he began to work on a mechanical refrigeration machine, which he patented in 1851. 

This machine, powered by horse, water, wind, or steam, worked by compressing air, cooling it by sending it through radiating coils, and then expanding it to lower the temperature further. Ice would form around metallic bricks inside the machine. This artificially created ice would be housed in a basin suspended from the ceilings of hospital rooms. Since cold air is heavier than warm air, the cooler air would drift down to comfort the patient. 

A similar process to cool the air is still in use today, all thanks to one dedicated man and his invention of artificial ice. However, we can offer hospitals, homes, and places of business a more streamlined and efficient approach to controlling their heating and cooling. 

The KMC AppStat, for instance, combines the power of a space-mounted general-purpose controller with the wall-mounted convenience of adjustable temperature, humidity, and motion sensors. From being able to control fan coil units and rooftop units to heat pump units and packaged and split unitary systems, these controllers’ programming and communication capabilities show us just how far HVAC controls have come since 1851.

Join us next time as we explore the connection between chattering teeth, classroom focus, and the creation of the first automated thermostat.  

For more information on the the KMC AppStat and other KMC Controls products, please visit https://www.kmccontrols.com/, your one-stop turnkey solution for building control. We specialize in open, secure, and scalable building automations, teaming up with leading technology providers to create innovative products that help customers increase operating efficiency, optimize energy usage, maximize comfort, and improve safety. Let our Building Geniuses® take your facility to the next level.