Omnia Mechanical Group

571 Timpson Place Bronx, NY 10455

Phone: 212-534-2500

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Air Compressor History: The Invention and Application of an Invaluable Industrial Machine

Modern air compressors aid in industrial, commercial, and residential operations. You can find these machines powering homeowner power tools or large-scale commercial processes in chemical and refrigeration plants. It is strange to learn that this innovative tool started from the humblest beginnings. Read the story of air compressor history, from its earliest iterations to its most current models.

Air Compressor History 101

The Inception of the Modern Marvel

The human lungs were the first air compressors known to mankind. The earliest humans used their breath to help produce fire for warmth and meal prep, blowing on embers to create flames. As people started working with metals such as tin, gold, and copper, they found human breath inadequate. The lungs created too much carbon monoxide but insufficient pressure for metal work. The metallurgists of Sumeria and Egypt invented blowpipes to help resolve the problem.

Archaeologists continue to discover evidence of blowpipes in ancient metallurgic societies. The tools helped metal workers introduce fresh oxygen into underground furnaces, keeping fires hot and continuous. While the instrument was a significant advancement in air power and control, it wasn’t until 1500 B.C. that air compressor history took its first major step toward the modern air compressor.

The Bellows

Bellows, invented in the European Middle Ages, helped speed up the combustion process for metalwork. Blacksmiths and iron workers used the tools to introduce oxygen into their forges.

Bellows are handheld or foot-powered devices made of a top and bottom plate connected with a hinge. The sides are flexible, allowing for free movement. An inward opening valve enables the tool to draw in air when separating the top and bottom plates. When compressing the tool, the valve contracts, and the air gets pushed through a nozzle, creating targeted air pressure.

With the creation of bellows came a greater understanding of the power of air pressure. People integrated the tools into reed and pipe organs, demonstrating the versatility of a gas most took for granted and celebrating the ingenuity of the human mind.

The Engineers and Mechanical Compressors

When discussing air compressor history, you cannot forget about the original engineers that birthed the blueprint of what became all modern compressors. John Smeaton, in 1762, was the first professional engineer to use a water wheel to power a blowing cylinder.

In 1776, an English inventor, John Wilkinson, revamped the concept of Mr. Smeaton, creating the early prototype for mechanical compressors. Mr. Wilkinson’s invention was a more sophisticated and efficient blasting machine.

Still, it wasn’t until 1829 that a patent was filed for the first official compound air compressor. The device made it possible to contain compressed air in multiple cylinders, becoming a closer approximation to modern designs.

The new design allowed for new applications. In 1858, the Mont Cenis Tunnel in the Swiss Alps began construction. Workers originally drilled by hand, clearing roughly 9 inches of material daily. Developers expected the project to take a minimum of 28 years to complete. In 1862, crews began using compressed air drills, allowing them to complete the project in 14 years.

The Second Industrial Revolution and Beyond

Air compressor history took a significant turn at the turn of the century. The United States was in the midst of its Second Industrial Revolution, transitioning from handmade industrial and consumer goods to machine-assisted production with the help of compressed air.

In 1910, the introduction of portable, single-stage compressors, driven by steam and oil engines, aided in rapid city and urban development. These compressors allowed for portable power tools and the faster creation of bridges, railroads, skyscrapers, houses, and much more.

In 1933, manufacturers created the first two-stage, air-cooled, portable compressor. Following the invention, free air delivery began using standard ratings and sizes. Then, in 1935, Alf Lysholm created the first twin screw compressor for steam and gas turbines.

As the century progressed, global development continued. Engineers, inventors, businesses, and governments found new and inventive ways to use compressors.

Today, air compressors are a part of nearly every industry and contribute to the global economy through increased productivity and production. The device changed the course of civilization and remains integral to communities around the world.

Air Compressor History: Modern Systems and Designs

Positive Displacement and Dynamic Compressors

The two most common compressors are positive displacement and dynamic compressors. Positive displacement options are the most common type of air compressor because they are often portable and ideal for smaller spaces.

Dynamic compressors increase static pressure using rapidly rotating blades. These systems include screw compressors and rotary compressors. The system is most beneficial to the manufacturing industry and for cooling systems.

Problems

While air compressors are essential and useful tools, they are also prone to problems. From providing insufficient pressure to not powering on, compressors are complex and sometimes touchy pieces of machinery.

There are many potential causes of your device not working. Some of the most common issues stem from faulty wiring or switch problems. You might fix some problems by simply using a reset button, but you shouldn’t have to use this option repeatedly. If you find you constantly need to reset the system, call a repair professional.

Because problems can stem from frayed wiring, broken plugs, or something else, it is important to hire a professional. Working on mechanical and electrical equipment is dangerous work, and it is not worth injury or worse.

Beyond Air Compressor History

Antler Pumps and Air Compressor Maintenance

Air compressor history teaches how important the device was to society. The tool allowed for rapid societal developments, truly altering the course of human history. Still, to this day, air compressors are essential to industrial and manufacturing industries. They also contribute to the operations of NYC buildings, both residential and commercial.

Antler Pumps not only appreciates air compressor history and the device’s power and utility, but we also understand the intricacies of its mechanics and operations. If your building is struggling with an existing compressor or needs an upgrade, contact our service at 212-534-2500. We are always happy to help a fellow New Yorker.


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