A Brief History of Air Compressors and Their Importance

three electric air compressors lined up in a garageAs industrial suppliers, we come across a lot of products that have been long in the making. Wisco Supply, Co. provides the private sector—as well as the government—with necessary supplies and equipment to run their facilities, installations, and more. Like everything we use today, technology and advancements change the way that we do business and the way that we interact with our environment. One of the things we supply our clients is equipment and parts for air compressors. And if you’re not in the industry, you might wonder where air compressors came from and why they are important today. Let’s take a look at their history!

But First, What are Compressors Anyway?

Compressors, as many of us know, are mechanical devices that are used to increase pressure on certain compressible gases or fluids. They are most commonly used to compress air and are used in a variety of industries. Compressors can be small enough to carry in your glove compartment for inflating a flat tire. They can also be larger units called turbocompressors used in large industrial facilities. The uses of compressed air can be many. Depending on the industry or facility, it may be used to power air tools, paint sprayers, and abrasive blast equipment, refrigerants for air conditioning and refrigeration, or even to shoot gas through pipelines. They work in two phases: the compression operation and the release operation.

There are two main types of compressors, positive displacement and dynamic (also called centrifugal). 

  • Positive displacement compressors take in air and squeeze out the space occupied by the air to increase pressure.
  • Dynamic compressors use bladed impellers. Acceleration is then used by rapidly rotating the impeller. This results in a static pressure rise of the gas

How Did It All Begin? — A Quick History 

When we look at the heavy industrial compressors of today, it may be hard to imagine that those big and reliable machines use the same concept of the ancient bellows you may have seen in films. Bellows are those funny-looking triangular apparatus that is squeezed on one end to pressurize the air. They are used to stoke flames in a fire and were used to produce hotter and longer burning fires. Some are even used today in homes with natural fireplaces. The early versions of these were made out of animal lungs dating back to 5,000 B.C in the early days of making metal weapons. 

According to some sources, one of the first air compressors that were used for something other than fire management shows up around 1762. It was powered by a water wheel and produced only 14 psi. By comparison, today’s large industrial air compressors will reach up to a maximum of 220 or so. 

Enter the Motor and the Compression Begins!

An Englishman by the name of George Medhurst introduced the first motorized air compression system. This really changed the game, as it allowed for far lasting power and more psi. These early compressors—along with Isambard Brunel’s pressurized caisson—played a big role in the rail industry, especially when it came to things like tunneling. Air compressors were used to transmit energy in a variety of ways. Austrian engineer Viktor Popp created the first compressor plant in Paris in 1888. In just a few years, the plant had grown considerably and further advancements to the use of this concept began incorporating electricity pneumatic energy. 

Once the industrial revolution began, the use of pressurized air was more essential than ever. This led to many advancements and improvements in the way that compressors were built and how they function. The essential idea, however, always remained the same, but as its uses expanded, the technology diverged and different approaches to the air compressor began to open up. 

This demand for different types of compression led the way to the different types of compressors we see today: the reciprocating compressor, rotary compressors, and jet compressors. Reciprocating compressors use pistons to compress the gas, rotary compressors take air in through a fan-like component, and the jet compressors use pressurized water or pressurized gas that forces the air outward. 

The Many Uses of Compressors in Today’s World 

Most people likely pass by or are in the presence of some type of air compressor regularly. Today, air compressors can be used from day-to-day activities like inflating your vehicle tires or compressors used at construction sites to power jackhammers or concrete compactors. They can also be hidden away in your refrigerator. You might also run into compressors in the HVAC systems of larger facilities like your favorite sports arena. 

Get the Compression You Need At Wisco Supply, Inc

From compressed air systems, rotary lobe blowers, oil-free compressors, air dryers, and more, Wisco Supply has your industrial needs covered. Call us today for information on how we can find the products and brands that you need.