"The Yankee Who Changed The South" - an unMetered Story

"The Yankee Who Changed The South" - an unMetered Story

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Ever hear the story of the man from the Snowbelt that changed the Sunbelt? You’ve probably not, and I hadn’t either until I came across his name. Today’s story is going to carry you on an interesting ride. So listen up to hear how a Yankee changed the South.

Before we get into the story, Middle Tennessee Electric wants to remind all our members and communities about the importance of energy efficiency. Small improvements to your home add up to big savings. For instance, did you know that your HVAC system consumes roughly 50% of your home’s energy each month? If you maintain your unit through tune-ups and by changing out air filters, you can improve your efficiency, which leads to less wasted energy, and extend the life of your unit. Another small thing you can do to make a big difference on your monthly bill is by raising the temperature of your thermostat. Each degree you raise it above 72 can save almost 3% on your bill, of course, it depends on the size of your home and other factors, but I think you understand the concept we’re trying to tell you.

Of course, if you do have a question about your home’s efficiency, give us a call at 877-777-9020 to schedule an appointment for an eScore home audit by one of our Energy Service Coordinators. It’s just one more benefit our members have access to through their local electric cooperative. For a list of more benefits and energy saving tips, check out ExperienceMembership.coop.

Now the story you’ve all been waiting for, or maybe not if you aren’t a fan of history and things that are cool. Here’s the story called “The Yankee That Changed The South.”

Angola, New York. You’ve probably never heard of the place unless you were born there, and even then it’s a place you probably wanted to get away from. Angola is south of Buffalo, kind of like how Woodbury is in relation to Nashville. It’s a small town of about 2,000 people in today, but in the 1870s it had about six hundred people living there.

Of those six hundred people in Angola, two people gave birth to a legend. I’m not talking about the legendary Christian Laettner, the gold medal-winning basketball player and famously hated ex-NBA player, or the legendary Monroe Salisbury, the silent film actor, not the steak guy. No, the legend I’m talking about today goes by the name of Willis.

Willis was born and raised in Angola before graduating from Cornell University and getting a job at the Buffalo Forge Company as an engineer in 1901. The world was different a century ago in Buffalo. Electricity had only become mainstream within the past couple of decades, and there was a large opportunity for inventions utilizing this new mainstream power source. And so, Willis was tasked with working on a project for a paper company.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of an invention that changes the world we live in today, I don’t think paper. I might think food processing or the automotive industry, I might even think about construction or aeronautics, but not paper. Never paper. But it was through a printing plant project that Willis began his journey to legend - wait for it and I hope your not lactose intolerant - dairy status. It even got him on the Time’s list of 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.

Before the printing press project in 1902, Willis completed a project for the Buffalo Forge company which saved them about $40,000 a year in production costs. For those of you who are curious like me, that would equate to roughly one million dollars in today’s economy. So obviously the bosses decided he was qualified to head up a new department in the company focused on experimental development. If you save a million dollars a year for a company, they let you pick which position you want I guess.

One of his first tasks was to fix a print quality issue at the Sackett & Wilhelms Lithography & Printing Press. They were experiencing an issue with their printing consistency due to the paper and ink changing between jobs. When there is too much water in the air, the paper and ink absorb some of that water, which makes the sheets heavier and the ink thinner which makes it harder to print large batches of consistent quality. Willis had to figure out a way to lower the amount of water in the air to optimize their printing presses.

To solve this issue, Willis decided to reverse engineer steam to figure out how to remove water from the air. Now, this may seem like a simple task, but in 1902, many of the technological advances which we take for granted hadn’t been developed yet.

Willis, being the observant person that he was, one day noticed condensation forming around cold objects. You know like when your mirror gets fogged up because it’s colder than the steam of your shower. Well, he decided to test out running cold water through coils and blowing the air of the paper plant over the coils to remove the excess water from the air. This resulted in the creation of the first dehumidifier and consequently the humidifier as well by reversing the process with hot water to create steam.

He continued to work on his design and patented it in January of 1906 under the name: The Apparatus for Treated Air. Soon, his Apparatus for Treated Air was a nationwide hit and began to be used in manufacturing, textile, and printing plants around the country. Willis and a few other engineers formed a new company to mass produce his new invention.

One particular man named Stuart Cramer of Charlotte, North Carolina decided to create a version of Willis’s humidifier for his textile mill to improve its efficiency. Cramer filed his adaptation for a patent in 1906 for his humidifier variation, but he used a different name. A name that Willis would quickly adopt as his company continued to grow.

So what was the term that Cramer used to influence Willis’s invention? Well, he called it an “Air Conditioner.” Besides being able to control the humidity in a factory, Willis’s Apparatus for Treated Air also created hot and cold air as a byproduct. These air conditioners became the foundation of Willis’s company: the Carrier Engineering Corporation. It’s changed names a few times, but today it’s called Carrier United Technologies, a world leader in the air conditioning and refrigeration industry.

And that’s the unMetered Story of Willis Carrier, the legend from the small town of Angola, New York, who invented the first air conditioner. His creation eventually was adapted for a variety of uses which are used every day. I told you at the beginning about how a legend from the Snowbelt forever changed the Sunbelt. I wasn’t lying. Can you imagine a world where the south didn’t have air conditioning in homes, business, or even automobiles? For all of us who sweat too much as it is, I want to say a special thanks to Willis Carrier: the Yankee that changed the South.

Don’t forget to check out ExperienceMembership.coop to learn about the benefits of membership at Middle Tennessee Electric. If you get a bill from us, you’re more than just a customer. You’re a member, and membership has benefits.

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