Ventilation and AC systems aboard ships are one of the most essential technologies to ensure the health and safety of its passengers. Artificial ventilation started on ships as far back as the 18th century. Sweden’s Sir Martin Triewald and Reverend Stephen Hales in England in the 1740s developed ventilation bellows for ships. The first ventilation systems were difficult to operate and largely ineffective. In 1880, the SS Strathleven had a refrigeration system installed aboard. Throughout the 1800s, these systems mainly kept meat and other perishable goods fresh during long voyages.
By 1908, luxury liners like Cunard’s Mauritania and Lusitania, and later the White Star Line’s RMS Titanic, Olympic, and Britannic had complex mechanical ventilation systems. These systems worked for heating on a winter Atlantic crossing. It took until 1930 before modern air-conditioning systems were installed aboard passenger liners like the SS Mariposa. But AC only existed in the first class dining room. Victoria had a more advanced system that air-conditioned all the dining saloons and six luxury cabins.
Not until the 1960s did air-conditioning become widespread. The Empress of Canada was the first large ocean liner that had all her public rooms, cabins, and crew quarters air-conditioned. The Northern Star needed 67 separate air-conditioning plants that worked in conjunction with 3 elector motor-driven Carrier centrifugal water-chilling refrigeration machines. In 1968, the Queen Elizabeth II set the benchmark for AC designs for years to come. Carrier-Winsor designed the new concept. It concentrated all the major plant rooms on one deck. Centralized ACs simplified maintenance and operator and reduced weight.
Questions for Further Thought
- What would traveling on a steamship be like before air conditioning?
- How do you think this differed between first-class and steerage-class passengers? Was ventilation accessible to all?
- How did the technology of air conditioning affect cruise travel?