What Car Company Invented Air Conditioning?

July 10th, 2022 by

One thing that we all take for granted is air conditioning (A/C) in our cars. It’s easy to overlook, but this feature is a lifesaver. A cool breeze keeps everyone sane on long trips and ensures the driver can concentrate on making it to their destination. Air conditioning is especially convenient during our warm Youngstown summers when the rain prevents you from rolling down the windows or taking advantage of a sunroof.

Most importantly, proper ventilation goes a long way in protecting your most vulnerable passengers. Now that you have a greater appreciation for air conditioning in your vehicle, you might wonder who you can thank. This article takes a look at the first car company to offer A/C in vehicles and answers other questions related to keeping your car cool.

Which Car Company was the First to Offer Air Conditioning in its Cars?

packard was the first car company to offer air conditioning

Packard by Don O’Brien is licensed with CC BY 2.0

In 1939, the Packard Motor Car Company became the first manufacturer to offer air conditioning in its vehicles. The feature was part of this luxury automobile company’s mission to provide customers with premium cars. While Packard beat others to the punch, Cadillac’s research with fans and General Motors Research Laboratories’ proposal of using an R-12 refrigerant vapor compression system contributed to the innovative technology.

What Were the Drawbacks of Packard’s Air Conditioning Systems?

While the Packard’s air conditioning systems were revolutionary, they came with several drawbacks. The limitations were inconvenient but to be expected with the first product of its kind. Here are some of the primary drawbacks:

  • Limited trunk space: Unlike today’s systems, Packard’s air conditioning units took up about half of the trunk space instead of sitting within the dash. The bulkiness made it difficult to transport your belongings and even decreased fuel efficiency.
  • Manual operation: Most people could get by without a temperature thermostat, but Packard’s earliest systems didn’t even have a shut-off mechanism. You could only turn the system on or off by manually installing or removing the drive belt from the compressor.
  • Cost: Packard allowed drivers to add an air conditioning unit to their vehicles for a couple of hundred dollars each. This cost was very expensive for most families back in 1939, especially when you consider that World War II was just beginning.

Because of the limitations, Packard discontinued the option to add an air conditioning unit in 1941. Nonetheless, the manufacturer’s innovation contributed to today’s convenient systems by inspiring others to develop more practical A/C units.

What Mechanisms Preceded Air Conditioning in Cars?

Despite Packard’s limitations, its systems were definitely more functional than previous cooling attempts. The earliest cars commercially available in the late 1800s were open-body models that promoted natural air circulation. While this approach was the best solution during the time period, it left the driver and passengers exposed to the elements.

When closed-bodied vehicles began appearing on the market around 1908, manufacturers knew they had to get creative with cooling solutions. Some added an adjustable windshield to prevent the engine’s hot air from blowing into the cabin. Others removed side curtains to promote additional airflow or added windows that passengers could crank up and down. Additional cooling solutions included:

  • Installing vents under the dashboard.
  • Installing vehicles with convertible tops that drivers could roll down.
  • Using a Kool Kooshion seat cover to position the driver about a half-inch about their seat and promote better circulation.
  • Adding a Knapp Limo-Sedan Fan that creates a breeze and promotes sweat evaporation.
  • Installing a “car cooler” that cools the air via evaporated water.
  • Mounting blocks of ice under the vehicle and using a fan to distribute the cool air.

While these solutions were innovative for the time, they came with their fair share of limitations. The blocks of ice were too inconvenient to maintain throughout a long trip, and the car cooler only worked in areas with low humidity. Thankfully, today’s systems have made significant strides to offer unmatched convenience.

When Did Automobile Air Conditioning Systems Make a Comeback?

Despite Packard discontinuing its air conditioning systems in 1941, the units made a comeback in 1953. Several manufacturers offered systems as an option, though the systems were similar to Packard’s rear-mounted ones. Drivers looking for more trunk space rejoiced just a year later when Nash and Pontiac because the first two manufacturers to install front-mounted systems. It’s also worth mentioning that Nash combined the air conditioner and heater into one unit, paving the way for most future cars to follow suit.

In 1964, Cadillac introduced Comfort Control so that the air conditioning automatically maintains the desired temperature that the driver sets. Four years later, the AMC Ambassador became the first car to include air conditioning units in all models instead of making them add-on options. By 1969, over half of all American cars featured air conditioning systems. Other significant moments in automobile air conditioning history include:

  • The 1971 launch of Interdynamics allows drivers to purchase do-it-yourself car A/C kits. In the same year, a front-page New York Times story claimed the A/C had become so popular in cars that it was leading to the obsolescence of the convertible.
  • Concerns about ozone layer depletion cause the Montreal Protocol to go into effect in 1987, leading to the phase-out of R-12 refrigerant in A/C systems.
  • In 1994, it becomes mandatory for all new car A/C systems to use R-134a refrigerant instead of R-12.

It’s certainly hard to imagine a time before air conditioning was standard in cars, but hopefully, this article has made you more appreciative of this luxury. You get to enjoy a nice breeze during your drives thanks to Packard’s innovation and early attempts at automotive solutions. Other manufacturers also helped pave the way for modern conveniences like automatic climate control.

If you want to gain even more appreciation for your car’s air conditioning, consider learning more about how the system works. Also, feel free to contact one of our representatives that specialize in parts like A/C units. We’re eager to share our expertise and help you resolve any problems you may have with your system. Our service department is here to ensure everyone can enjoy the refreshing car rides they deserve.

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