Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Weathermakers to the World - Behind the Scenes

The Mechanical Weather Man, a fixture
of Carrier advertising in the 1920s.
copyright © 2012 Carrier Corporation · a UTC company
Throughout much of 2011 I labored away on a history of Carrier Corporation at the kind invitation of the good folks at Carrier, now part of UTC Climate, Controls and Security.  The mission, which involved a small team of talented people at the company (see here for the official website) and equally talented folks at the Pinckney-Hugo Group in Syracuse (who designed the book), was to deliver a coffee-table history of the company focused on its founder, Willis Carrier, and its century-plus record of leadership, innovation, and sustainability.

Our book team wanted to avoid the typical corporate history tome, full of mind-numbing 6-point font and a 450-page throw-weight.  In fact, we were kind of thinking “cool museum,” where you might see an artifact that you like and decide it’s worth reading about.  Whenever I forgot this point I would hear the gentle reminder from my teammates, “less text, more pictures, Eric.”

Launching at the Library of Congress
Earlier this month we launched the final product of our labors, Weathermakers to the World, at the Library of Congress on a suitably tropic 99F day in Washington, D.C.  

The Library of Congress baking in the D.C. sun @ 99F, a record for that date.
Weathermakers to the World assembled for launch. "Weathermakers to
the World" was a slogan adopted by Carrier around 1930 to describe their
business and its global reach.  It seemed like a fitting title for our book.
Some pages from our book were arrayed down the hallway.  This illustration memorializes the launch
of modern air conditioning on July 17, 1902 in Brooklyn, New York. 

Weathermakers to the World is less about cooling coils, compressors, and condensers (though there's some of that) and more about the social impact of modern air conditioning.
The Sistine Chapel.  Mt. Vernon.  Madison Square Garden. A gold mine in South Africa.  The Rivoli Theatre on Broadway.  The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. The Queen Mary.  An historic Pullman dining car. The new library at Alexandria.  The Beijing Olympics. The UN.  An Incan Ice Princess.(!)  Rockefeller Center. Toffenetti’s Restaurants (where the giant baked potato got its start).  An igloo at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair. And more.

copyright © 2012 Carrier Corporation · a UTC company
In 2000, modern air conditioning was named one of the top 10 engineering achievements of the 20th century by the National Academy of Engineering).  And, while Willis Carrier was a fascinating person and gifted engineer, and the company’s technological innovations throughout the decades are striking, it’s the stories of social impact--of how air conditioning fundamentally changed our lives--that are most compelling and that are featured in the book.

My brief remarks at the Library of Congress event went something like this. . .

Weathermakers to the World begins with a deceptively simple set of engineering drawings initialed by a young Cornell University graduate by the name of Willis Haviland Carrier on July 17, 1902, nearly 110 years ago this evening.  It was the first design ever to precisely control humidity in an industrial environment—in this case, a printing plant.  A factory floor in Brooklyn, New York.  A very humble engineer.  Very humble beginnings--but ones that would ultimately launch a company and an entire industry.
And then went on to say. . .

Carrier's launch of modern air conditioning at the
Rivoli Theatre on Broadway on Memorial Day 1925
forever changed the movie industry, and made possible
the summer blockbuster.
copyright © 2012 Carrier Corporation · a UTC company
. . .it was Memorial Day 1925 at the Rivoli Theater on Broadway where Carrier forever changed Hollywood.  Before that, theaters were so stuffy and oppressive in the hot summer months that ushers would sometimes walk up and down the aisle spraying perfume—if you could find a theater open at all.  In the crowd that Memorial Day was Adolph Zukor, the founder of Paramount Pictures, who commented on his first experience with comfort air in one of the most understated marketing forecasts in history: “Yep, the people are going to like it.’”  (I checked, and from May to Labor Day last year, domestic box office receipts alone were 4.4 Billion dollars.)

And then added one other fun example. . .

It's there--you just can't see it.
copyright © 2012 Carrier Corporation · a UTC company
There are many, many other stories of real social impact in Weathermakers to the World, but let me leave you with one that some of you may have witnessed first-hand.  Carrier’s Dr. Charles Bullock (now retired) led a team that did some incredible work at the Sistine Chapel in the early 1990s (on page 120 of our book).  He was kind enough to send me his engineering notes as part of my research.  That’s when I understood, if Carrier had not been successful in protecting Michelangelo’s frescoes, the Vatican was considering the closure of the Sistine Chapel to visitors.  That would disappoint two million people a year and hide from view one of mankind’s greatest artistic achievements.  How do you put a price tag on something like that?
From the most humble of beginnings, a factory floor in Brooklyn, to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Weathermakers to the World connects the dots of a fascinating entrepreneurial, technological, and human story played out over 110 years. Today, the fundamentals of Dr. Carrier’s innovation are what insures that the computer I’m typing this on can be built (thanks to cool clean rooms), and the Web I’m posting this on runs efficiently (thanks to cool data centers).  

Web vs. A/C: A Story That Got Cut From the Book

One very hot and humid day in the summer of 2006, a work crew accidentally severed electric power to Sensitech’s offices due north of Boston.  A phone call to the utility indicated that power might be restored in perhaps three hours.  Nearly 100 people emerged from their offices, cubicles and work stations, some bemused and others looking aggravated.  What kind of work could be accomplished without phones and Web connections?  

One of my favorite pictures from Weathermakers, taken at
the Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh in 1914,
shows the first incubator room, capable of providing a
healthy, cool environment for infants.  Can you imagine
a hospital today without air conditioning?
copyright © 2012 Carrier Corporation · a UTC company
It turned out, of course, that much could be accomplished: good, old fashion face-to-face meetings, cell phone calls, catching up on reading, taking inventory--even thinking done with (gasp) pencil and paper (or worse yet) on a computer without the Internet.   But as people reorganized their day and settled back into work, something else happened.  The offices began to get hot.  Humid.  Sticky.   Opening the windows provided no relief as it was far worse outside than in.  

As the temperature and humidity grew, it became clear that people expected to be sent home--just like we were in the midst of a blizzard. After all, what kind of work could be accomplished without air conditioning?  

Ask a friend to identify the most pervasive technology in the world today and (after electricity, of course, and maybe Rap music) he might well say “the Web.”  But we learned something else at Sensitech that day.  Most of us can find plenty of ways to be efficient and productive without the Web, at least for an afternoon, but without air conditioning we all just want to hang it up and go home.

That’s one of the stories that didn’t make it into the book because, well, there just wasn’t room.  (Less text, more pictures, Eric.) The Carrier Archives in Syracuse are 70,000 boxes strong and contain not only the story of a company, but of an entire global industry over the last 110 years.  We found and wrote about the really good stuff, but there were still tales we had to leave on the cutting room floor.

So, Weathermakers to the Word has made its debut and is available on Amazon. I don't expect you to give up your John Grisham this summer, but if you purchase a copy of Weathermakers you'll find we have one thing the others simply don't:

Less text.  More pictures.

You can trust me on that.

Willis Carrier was named one of the 100 most important Americans of the 20th century by Life magazine.
Nobody who knew him would have been surprised--nor that he's made a graceful transition into the modern era where he's regularly praised on line.   There's even a Facebook movement to put him on Mt. Rushmore--I'm not kidding.  See
here, too.