25 Greatest Inventions of the 20th Century: Air conditioners

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. get (someone) / gɛt / (phrasal v.) – to kill someone

    No one’s sure what got him, but I think it was the lack of water.

  2. sticky / ˈstɪk i / (adj.) – describing unpleasant weather where it’s hot and the air feels wet

    I hate going outside when it’s sticky!

  3. constantly / ˈkɒn stənt li / (adv.) – all the time or regularly

    Beauty standards are constantly changing.

  4. ventilate / ˈvɛn tlˌeɪt / (v.) – to cause fresh air to enter and flow through a room, area, etc.

    Every morning, I open the windows to ventilate my room.

  5. cut down (something) / kʌt daʊn / (phrasal v.) – to reduce the quantity, size, etc. of something

    Mike’s doctor said that he should cut down the amount of sugar that he eats.


Read the text below.

In Japan’s summer, you might hear people say “It’s not the heat that gets you, it’s the humidity.” People might say something like that about the air conditioner. It wasn’t invented to fix the heat, it was invented to fix the humidity.

In the hot, sticky New York summer of 1901, the paper at a Brooklyn publishing company expanded, making it hard to properly print color pages. So the publisher turned to a local heating company. One of its engineers, 26-year-old Willis Carrier, invented the world’s first modern air conditioner for the publisher in 1902.

His machine moved air over cold metal coils. The coils were kept cold by pumping liquid ammonia through them. The air conditioner not only kept the humidity low, it cooled the air too.

Carrier constantly made newer, better models. And he quickly realized that a machine that could pump out dry, cool air would find buyers in many different industries. In the 1920s, movie theaters began using them, and that helped make going to the cinema a wildly popular pastime.

But air conditioners changed more than just cinema; they let businesses and people move to areas that had been too hot to live. In the U.S. Sunbelt, in Middle Eastern countries and in large parts of Asia, including Japan, air conditioners helped to supercharge modern economies.

They’re still helping. In the middle of a pandemic, new models can ventilate rooms using air from outside, cutting down the risk of spreading a virus that travels on the air we breathe. (T)

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • In your opinion, how frequently should air conditioners be used when it’s hot outside (ex. 24/7, only at night)? Why? Discuss.
  • What are the best ways to beat the heat when you don’t have an air conditioner (ex. wear linen clothes, drink hot tea)? Why? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Some people say in Japan’s summer, it’s not the heat that gets you, it’s the humidity. Do you agree? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • Air conditioners let businesses and people move to areas that had been too hot to live. Do you think people should continue to use air conditioners to live in these areas, or should they move to cooler areas to be more eco-friendly? Why? Discuss.