Saturday, August 2, 2008

History of Auto Air Conditioning

As the "Dog Days Of Summer" approach my area of the world, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I can't help but appreciate the comfort and convenience of air conditioning...especially in my car. That got me to thinking as to when auto air conditioning first made its appearance.
I found that the first car with an air conditioning system was the 1939 Packard. It consisted of a large evaporator, called a cooling coil which took up the entire trunk. The only control was a blower switch. Packard advertised this mechanical marvel by stating "Forget the heat this summer in the only air-conditioned car in the world."
In 1941 the Cadillac division of General Motors produced approximately 300 cars with air conditioning, which like the Packard, was located in the trunk. The big drawback with Cadillac's air conditioning system was that there was no compressor clutch, which meant the the air conditioning pump would be on whenever the engine was running. To alleviate this, the car's owner had to go under the hood and remove the compressor belt...very inconvenient. Cadillac improved a bit on this after World War II by developing air conditioning controls. The only draw back to this "improved" system was that the Cadillac owner had to climb into the back seat to operate it as the controls were mounted on the shelf behind the rear seat.
Chrysler offered air conditioning, on a limited basis in 1942. It was similar to the Packard design and three 1942 DeSotos with this system are still known to exist. Chrysler made it's "Airtemp" air conditioning system available for it's luxury cars starting in 1953.
It wouldn't be until 1954 that an efficient and affordable air conditioning unit could be mass produced for the auto industry. Credit for that goes to the Harrison Radiator Division of General Motors.
GM first equipped it's 1954 Pontiacs with this new system which used a magnetic clutch, so when it was not in use, no power was needed to drive the compressor. This improved performance and fuel delving under the hood or into the back seat with this system.
It was noted by some however, that the Chrysler "Airtemp" system was a better design because it ran quieter and unlike the GM system which had plastic air distribution tubes mounted on the shelf behind the rear seat, Chrysler's system had small, flat ducts located behind the rear seat that directed cool air toward the ceiling of the car, preventing the air from blowing directly at passengers. By 1955 Chrysler's "Airtemp" system was available on all it's car models.
Not much has been written about Ford's air conditioning attempts, but by 1956 air conditioning was offered on most Ford models. Ford's Select-Aire was a factory installed system and early models directed air through the vents just below the windshield. In 1958 Ford's air conditioning system was redesigned and cooled air was now rerouted through vents below the dashboard. Ford also offered a dealer installed air conditioner called Polar-Aire which was a stand-alone hang-on unit.

As comfortable as air conditioning was, it wasn't a frequently ordered accessory until the late 70's, when it became the reliable and efficient system we are familiar with today. It is estimated the 90% of cars manufactured today have air conditioning.


peter said...

this is nice blog about air-conditioning.

John said...


Thankyou...glad you enjoyed.


Auto Air Conditioning said...

this is a brilliant blog!
i just started reading it two days ago and its really great!

God bless,

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nshvlcat said...
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Air Conditioners said...

This is a very eye opening article...yes it is important to see the detailed function of the car air conditioners...and this one is one of the top line products.Thanks for the detailed report ...may would not otherwise know about it.

Dr. Charles Quarles said...

I have been an auto air conditioning aficionado for most of my life. When I was three years old in 1953, our family had air conditioned Buicks and Cadillacs from then on. I can remember as a child standing in the back seats and being fascinated by the clear plastic tubes and the overhead vents with the cold air flowing out of them. I have since collected many interior controls and vents through the years, and I owned a beautiful 1955 Coupe de Ville with the factory Frigidaire system.
Your concise history of auto air conditioning is very informative. I have only one possible small correction: You mention after WII that the only drawback to Cadillac's improved system was that "the controls were on the rear package shelf." Actually the system controls were in a unit under the center of the instrument panel; the control on the rear shelf only opened/closed a shutter to allow air into the car from the outside rear air scoops. See my website page:

Thanks again for interesting information.

Jogesh said...

Thanks for such informative blog,it really helpfull in the growth of my Air Conditioning Repair Hollywood FL
Business.Thanks Again !!.. Keep Posting

North Miami Beach Emergency AC Repair said...

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Anonymous said...

I have a '53 Buick Roadmaster with factory air: evaporator in the trunk, huge "Atom Bomb" compressor, clear plastic transfer tubes on ea. side of the package shelf, individual flow and directional controls at the 4 "corner" seating stations, and overall system controls up front. No clutch, ran all the time until belt was disconnected. Only 0.47% (about one in 210) of U.S. cars had factory air in '53 -- and then only Packards, Caddies, and top-end Buicks and Oldsmobiles. The option cost $600, on a car that based around $3500.

zippyjet said...

I saw a picture of a 1954 or 1955 Pontiac equipped with factory A/C. From what I could tell there were only two in dash vents. They were on the driver's and passenger side. There were no center vents. The two dash vents were round and looked like the end of a hair dryer. Interesting how Cadillac kept their older unit through 1956.
I wonder what year GM featured an in dash factory A/C system that included a center dash register?
Great historical blog. Thank you for sharing. (-:

Air Conditioning said...

The most common way to learn auto air conditioning repair is to complete a certificate program. These programs are typically organized by the local community college that runs the automotive repair training program.

airconditioningrepairca said...

Air conditioning repair is integral to indoor temperature control, ventilation and comfort throughout the warmer seasons. The issues that can befall your system can range from the fan, condenser, compressor, wires, fan motor or thermostat. Inspection can keep you abreast of issues before they become costly air conditioning repair.

Air conditioning repair Venice

Rod Barclay said...

John, Very informative and useful blog. You and your followers might be interested in my new book "Boy! That Air Feels Good!" in which I cover the development of auto air conditioning, especially the after-market pioneers of North Texas - A.R.A, Frigikar and Mark IV. I have a section which covers the unreleased 1941 models from Chrysler, with photos. The book is available from and Barnes &

Jaydol said...

What, mo mention of the Nash Air conditioning system which was a pioneer in putting everything under the hood like modern cars and vents contained in the dash and heating vents below? Theirs was the cheapest and best built system starting in 1953.

App Developers Gurgaon said...

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GST Training said...

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John E. Livengood said...

As well as considering productivity benefits, it’s worth taking into account the savings that climate control will confer to the building itself and the equipment in it. Failure rates for computers and other key hardware will be influenced by an excess of humidity, as moisture in the air can cause electricity to arc between different circuits.

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