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The history of dehumidifiers from 1840 to the present day

Like all modern technology, industrial and heavy-duty dehumidifiers began life in a much more humble way. Indeed, the powerful technology we see and use today began with the first revolutionary invention in the ability to control air quality: the air conditioning system.

Air conditioners and dehumidifiers are, in themselves, very similar to each other. They both have the ability to regulate the humidity of the air, however dehumidifiers are specifically adapted to humid environments; by drawing humid air out of an environment, they can help prevent the development of mould and structural damage. In order to understand the history of industrial dehumidifiers, we must therefore first know the history of the air conditioning unit.

The origin of air conditioners and dehumidifiers: an idea by Dr John Gorrie

The idea of using technology to cool the air around us was first conceived and published by inventor Dr John Gorrie, who proposed that "the evils of high temperatures" could be alleviated by cooling entire cities.

The rationale and intent of such a proposal was that it could be used to help stop the spread of disease. At the time, in the 1840s, diseases such as malaria were rampant and high temperatures contributed to their spread. In addition, the temperature made recovering patients incredibly uncomfortable; a solution was clearly needed if it was possible.

Unfortunately, in the 1840s, technology was still very rudimentary at best, and Gorrie's ideas The main limitation of his prototype was the cost of the system. The main limitation of his prototype was the cost of the system; his unit involved the large-scale use of horse power, wind or steam to compress water sufficiently to cause ice to form, thereby cooling a room. Indeed, when Gorrie's backer died prematurely during the production and development process, Gorrie had no choice but to abandon his idea.

Gorrie's early ideas never materialised in his time. However, they laid the foundation for a technology that could be used to control the temperature (and humidity) of the air in the airspace. It is therefore to this pioneer that we must give credit for being the first to propose the concepts behind the technology that would become the first industrial dehumidifier.

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The invention of the dehumidifier between 1900 and 1910

The decade 1900-1910 marked the beginning of a new era in air conditioning. The history of the industrial dehumidifier really began at this time, starting with a very simple version of an air conditioning unit.

The first air conditioning system seen was invented in 1902, when temperatures and humidity began to reach unbearable levels for workers and families. This excessive heat was also causing problems for businesses; a printing company responsible for reproducing copies of colour prints needed a way to control the temperature. This was mainly due to the fact that the prints produced were of poor quality because of the heat and humidity: the pages were wrinkled and the ink did not spread as it should, leaving the pages produced, messy and unsaleable.

The solution to this problem was a new type of technology to control the air temperature. This first air-conditioning unit was primitive at best; it operated through the use of manual labour and was only partially effective, to begin with, because the system caused salt water to splash onto the dehumidified air that was produced. Further research into more sophisticated measures was therefore necessary.

The next prototype air conditioner, developed by Sackett-Wilhelms (who had bought the concept from Lyle, who had himself received the concept and ideas from Carrier), fared somewhat better than its predecessor. It will be known as the dehumidification plant and will pave the way for future developments of this revolutionary dehumidification technology. Thus, the history of the dehumidifier began with the purchase of one of these early models by the above-mentioned printing company, which was able to use the technology to ensure that its colour prints were of the quality expected by its customers.

Was this first dehumidifier effective?

In 1904, dehumidification technology was tested by William Timmis, a consulting engineer who had been involved for several years in finding a solution to the high humidity problems of printing presses. His tests concluded that the early dehumidification unit was effective in reducing the humidity from 86 % to 63 %, a reduction in relative humidity of about 23 %, which was impressive considering the dehumidification technology available at the time.

However, this was not the level of efficiency expected. Further research and comments made by people at Cornell University attribute this to the fact that the coils used in the prototype air conditioning unit were not as efficient as they should have been. In addition, problems were also detected on the air side of the system.

As a result, the development of dehumidification and industrial air conditioning technology slowed down slightly. Carrier knew that its first model of air conditioning unit was not efficient enough and so continued to conduct further research into potential improvements to the system.

In 1906, the term "air conditioning" was first used by Stuart Cramer. The air conditioning units also began to be installed in industrial and commercial properties at the same time, making them the first seen examples of prototype industrial dehumidifiers for warehouses and businesses. In the same year, Carrier also published a psychometric chart in the Buffalo Forge fan catalogue to share its knowledge with the scientific community. In addition, the very first air conditioning catalogue was published in 1908 by Carrier himself.

What about air cooling technology?

In addition to standard dehumidification technology, air cooling technology was also investigated during this decade. In 1904, the St. Louis World's Fair saw the first large-scale use of mechanical refrigeration systems to cool a building: the entire Missouri State Building, to be exact!

This technology was not quite the same as the high-efficiency industrial dehumidification systems we use today for our commercial properties, of course. However, it was important for the development of air-conditioning systems (which would form the basis of the modern industrial dehumidifier).

1910 to 1920: Little change in air conditioning and dehumidification systems

In 1911, after the creation and marketing of his early air-conditioning unit, Willis Carrier wrote and published a paper he had written on the subject of air-conditioning, entitled "Rational Psychrometric Formulae". This paper was presented to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and served to introduce the idea of air conditioning technology to a large number of scientific minds and mechanical engineers.

Rapid progress between 1920 and 1950

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In 1928, new advances were made in the field of dehumidifiers for food preservation. At that time, the world saw the first example of the use of CFC refrigerant chemicals to provide cooling systems to keep food cool. This chemical was later banned due to its disastrous impact on the environment - the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987 to begin to slow the production of these ozone-depleting substances, and in 1995 CFCs were banned altogether. It was also the year that the world saw the first ever electrically powered refrigerated vending machine.

The following decades proved to be very effective in advancing air conditioning and dehumidification technology. In 1930, the very first air conditioning system in a vehicle was seen; this unique vehicle was ordered specifically for John Hamman Jr, who saw the need for a cooling system in his vehicle.

The advent of the Second World War slowed down the development of air conditioning and dehumidification technologies. The increasing use of air-conditioning systems for individual use, for example, was prohibited, and only dehumidifiers and industrial air-conditioning systems were allowed at that time. Fortunately, the end of the war allowed this restriction to be lifted.

At the end of this period, new milestones were reached in the development of industrial dehumidifiers and air conditioners. In 1948, textile mill workers in North Carolina began to complain about the immense heat and humidity of their working conditions, which led to a large-scale strike. The introduction of some of the very first modern-style industrial dehumidifiers for industrial systems would be the result. Further proof of the effectiveness of residential and industrial dehumidifiers and air conditioning systems

In 1950, a study was conducted to determine the effectiveness of new air conditioning and dehumidification systems. The study concluded that people who lived and worked in air-conditioned or dehumidified properties were much happier and healthier than their peers.

The next step for dehumidifiers in the 1960s

In the 1960s, dehumidification and air-conditioning technology was used in a way that had never been seen before: the decade saw the rapid development of space exploration technology and, as part of this, the modern spacesuit was created.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin will become the first two people to set foot on the moon in 1969. They did so wearing these unique spacesuits, which were carefully designed with brand new built-in cooling systems. Indeed, this represented a new form of use for industrial dehumidifiers and air conditioning, and demonstrated the advanced nature of the systems available at the time.

The modern dehumidifier

White Persian cat sitting next to the tray of an air dehumidifier

In 1995, further progress was made in cooling systems and air conditioning units after the total ban on the use of CFCs in 1995. From then on, the mechanical industry continued to develop its existing air conditioning and dehumidification systems.

In 1999, just before the turn of the century, a major public event was held to promote the air conditioning unit. The event was called Stay Cool: Air Conditioning in America and raised awareness of air conditioning and dehumidification systems.

In the following years, modest air conditioning and dehumidification units developed quite rapidly. Over the last two decades, considerable sums have been spent on improving the quality and efficiency of modern dehumidifiers. This has enabled modern dehumidifiers to Peltier effect to be an incredibly effective tool that has a wide range of uses for more industries and residential properties.

Today, modern industrial dehumidifiers boast a number of very impressive statistics. Far from the saltwater dehumidifier that was invented to help the printing industry over a century ago, these modern units have the following features:

  • The functional side Many modern dehumidifiers are considered portable dehumidifiers, due to the fact that they are built on wheels. Many businesses and industrial properties may find that investing in a portable dehumidifier can be an excellent step to take in order to allow workers to easily move the system.
  • The coverage area Modern heavy-duty industrial dehumidifiers are excellent today because of the large coverage areas they can work in. Some impressive modern dehumidifiers can easily cover areas of at least 8,000 square feet, even if they are portable units. This makes them very affordable and effective tools for many modern industrial units, regardless of the space available in a room or warehouse.
  • High airflow Modern units are popular choices for industries that need to dry the air in a room, as there are now high airflow industrial dehumidifiers on the market capable of producing more than 600 CFM for rapid drying.
  • High water removal capacity Many modern industrial dehumidifiers have a very large storage capacity for the water extracted from the air. Modern dehumidifiers are therefore ideal for industries that need to extract a large amount of water from the air within a day.
  • Energy-efficient technology Many modern industrial dehumidifiers have energy-saving features that help make them affordable to purchase and use in commercial properties.
  • Noise reduction Older dehumidifiers were known to be noisy, but modern dehumidifiers are now much quieter than before. This is ideal for allowing commercial properties to operate efficiently and without disturbing workers who may be in the vicinity of the dehumidifier.