St. Louis’ place in air-conditioning history

May 7, 2013

ST. LOUIS • The 1904 World’s Fair in Forest Park helped make the ice cream cone famous. It also introduced to a mass audience another cooling sensation that, oddly, never got much press. The Missouri State Building, the host state’s own exhibition hall, had a large air-conditioning machine in the basement that cooled most of its rooms. The machine operated much like today’s central air-conditioning system in a typical American home — a system that has made oppressive heat such as we’ve seen this year much more bearable. “That was the first time great numbers of ordinary people were exposed to the comfort of air conditioning,” said Bernard Nagengast of Sidney, Ohio. Nagengast, an engineering consultant, said he had studied the history of refrigeration and air conditioning for four decades. He described the contribution of the World’s Fair to interior comfort in an article in 1999 for the ASHRAE Journal, a publication of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers in Atlanta. His evidence is from the pages of an old trade publication, called Ice and Refrigeration, that discussed and explained the system in 1904. “That’s the only detail I have ever been able to find,” he said....

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