An automatic furnace milestone: The birth of the “Winter Air Conditioner”

Automatic warm air heating, in the form of a “winter air conditioner,” was first marketed in Canada in the mid to late 1930s. When it arrived, it was as a breath of fresh air to a people ready to move beyond subsistence living, huddled around the parlour stove or warm air register.

The winter air conditioner represented a convergence of five advanced technologies of the period: First, a high pressure oil atomizing, gun-styled oil burner, new for the times; second, an automatic control system consisting of combustion, safety, and temperature limit controllers; third, a high volume squirrel cage blower, guaranteeing warm air circulation throughout the home; fourth, air filters; and fifth, a warm air humidifier.

More than just a central warm air furnace, the winter air conditioner was a total “system.” The system, with many component parts, would generate heat automatically and distribute it throughout the home, changing the air several times each hour. The system would include new high tech streamlined duct work, for distributing warm air, register faces for comfortable air delivery to every room, as well as a room thermostat that would maintain temperature within a range of plus or minus 2°F.

The system represented significant advancements in applied science and engineering design, materials development, manufacturing processes, and fabrication methods.

Enclosed in a modern streamlined cabinet, the winter air conditioner could be located in a corner of the basement, freeing space for other uses like work benches and laundry rooms, and a place for leisure and entertainment called the “recreation room.” Beyond its potential for new levels of performance and comfort, the winter air conditioner would be shamelessly promoted as a principal portal to new lifestyle living for Canadians.
* Research from the archives of the HVACR Heritage Centre Canada (DCSB #4, HD1001M).
* Howard Air Conditioning Design for Canadian Conditions: Sales Bulletin 38-1, 1938

G. Leslie Oliver, Nigel Heseltine
Ron Shuker
c. 1930s
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