Saint Willis of Carrier

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David Epps
David Epps

I arrived at work last Monday to discover that the air conditioner in our office area was not working properly. That’s a bad thing to happen in the Deep South in July. As it happens, we were without A/C for the better part of three days. The solution was to install a totally new unit for a price tag in excess of $5,500. Two of those three days our staff worked from home. Even at 8 p.m. on Monday night, the inside temperature was 89 degrees.

How did it happen that this came to be considered too hot? Anyone my age can likely remember the days when very few homes, even in the Deep South, had air conditioning.

To experience this wonderful miracle, my childhood friend and I would hop on the bus, travel to the downtown area, and take in a movie. The theaters actually advertised that they had air conditioning. A big blue banner with icicles announced “Conditioned Air Inside!” Even the elementary and junior high schools in Kingsport, Tenn., did not have A/C. Most of the mid-size and smaller churches provided either windows that would open or hand-held fans.

There were several ways to stay cool during the sweltering and humid summers. The first was to play outside. It was often hotter in the house than outdoors. Another method of cooling off was to visit one of the public pools in our town. In my childhood, this meant meeting up with friends at the American Legion Pool. Once I started driving, I could also visit the pool at Warrior’s Path State Park. Swimming in the lake was also an option.

In my house, there were two methods of trying to stave off the heat: (1) open the windows and hope there was a breeze, and (2) turn on a fan. At night, in order to get to sleep, I often did both. To this day, I need a fan turned on or some other form of “white noise” to sleep soundly.

The truth is, we didn’t miss air conditioning because we didn’t have it. We played outside, practiced two-a-days during football season, fished, and “cruised Broad Street” with our friends in cars that had no A/C. Sweat was just a normal part of life. When I went to Parris Island, S.C., for Marine Corps boot camp, there was no A/C in the barracks there either.

However, when I came home from boot camp and walked in the house, the first thing that hit me was not the aroma of my mom’s Southern cooking but, rather, a blast of cool air. It seems that, in my absence, my folks had installed a window unit in the TV room which inevitably came to mean that we all spent more time in the TV room.

Now all these many years later, we have come to see air conditioning not only as our right, but one of the essentials of life itself. It isn’t of course. If all air conditioning ceased, we would eventually adjust and move on. We would go back to living life as it was once lived and our sweat pores would start to function again.

Nevertheless, all the folks living in the warmer climates should pause and give thanks for a man named Willis Carrier, a 25-year-old engineer from New York. In 1902, standing on a train platform in Pittsburgh, Willis had an idea. To make a long story short, the idea bore fruit and Willis Carrier is known as the “Father of Air Conditioning.” Or, as he might well be known in the humid oven known as the South, “St. Willis of Carrier.”

According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, “Today, some 80 percent of American households have air conditioners, mostly central systems, according to the Energy Information Administration. Air conditioning has grown from a luxury to a necessity and contributed in many ways to the quality of life in America and the industrialized world.

“In addition to the obvious benefits and enjoyments of comfort cooling, the air conditioner altered architectural design, allowing windowless office buildings and houses without porches. Air conditioning also played a major role in migration patterns and economic development in the U.S., allowing millions of people to live and work and establish businesses in locations known for their hot and steamy climates.

“In 2000, air conditioning/refrigeration was named among the 10 greatest mechanical engineering achievements of the 20th century, according to a survey of ASME members….”

All I know is that air conditioning is one of the modern marvels of the contemporary world. When it works, we take it for granted. When it doesn’t, we will move whatever mountain we need to move to get it fixed. Life is significantly more pleasant because of it.

All this because a young man, one year out of Cornell University, had an inspiration as he waited for a train in Pittsburgh.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City. He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at bishopdavidepps@gmail.com.]