The greatest invention ever

By: By Mac McPhail - Contributing columnist

By Mac McPhail

Contributing columnist

Two good ol’ boys, with obviously too much time on their hands, were trying to decide what was the greatest thing ever invented. After arguing back and forth, Robert Joseph, aka Bobby Joe, smiled and said, “I’ve got it!”

He continued, “The greatest thing ever invented was the thermos bottle!”

“The thermos bottle?” countered his buddy, shaking his head in disbelief. “All it does is keep hot things hot, and cold things cold.”

“Yeah,” replied Bobby Joe, “but how does it know?”

I’ll have to admit the thermos bottle is pretty neat, but it’s far from the greatest thing ever invented. Starting from the wheel of ancient times to the internet of today, there have been countless number of inventions which have made our lives better. (I’m not certain if the internet will end up making our lives better or not.) But there has been one invention that I know for certain has made our lives better, especially here in the South.

Air conditioning.

In 1902, the modern air conditioner was invented by Willis Carrier. He developed his device he called the Apparatus for Treating Air for the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Co. in Brooklyn, N.Y. The machine would blow air over cold coils to control room temperature and humidity, keeping paper from wrinkling and ink aligned. Finding that other factories want to get in on the cooling action, Carrier established the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America.

In 1906, Stuart Cramer, a textile mill engineer here in North Carolina, created a ventilating device that adds water vapor to the air of textile plants. The humidity made yarn easier to spin and less likely to break. He was the first to call this process “air conditioning.”

Today, we take air conditioning for granted, unless the electricity goes out. But most of my generation can remember at least part of our childhood being without it. When I was real young, I played with my toy cars and soldiers on top of the small circular floor fan in the den, trying to keep cool, while watching cartoons or “Lassie.” On hot summer nights, I would sleep at the foot of the bed, hoping to catch any breeze coming in the bedroom window. Part of the attraction of going to the movies in the summer was that the theatre was air conditioned and cool. We got a window air conditioner when I was around ten years old, which made summers much more bearable.

Think of how much the South and the Sunbelt have grown since the end of World War II. In 1950, only 28 percent of the U.S. population was located in the Sunbelt. By 2000, that total was over 40 percent. Do you think all of those Yankees would have moved down here if we didn’t have air conditioning? You can imagine how much they would have complained if they had move down here without air conditioning. Speaking of complaining, here’s a true story from years ago, and from another place.

A friend of mine, I’ll call him, Bob, was a supervisor at a sewing plant. (It had to be a long time ago because there were still sewing plants around.) The plant manager was from up North. He was always complaining about things down here in the South, and how things were always so much better back up North. You know, how great the food was up

North, how great the weather was, how great the schools were, etc. Well, my friend was fed up with it. One day, after hearing the plant manager run down the South one more time, Bob finally hit the breaking point.

“It sure sounds great up there,” he told the plant manager. “I bet all the women up North are beautiful. I bet there ain’t nothing but good looking babes up there.”

“You got it,” his plant manager agreed.

“Yeah, there can’t be nothing but good looking women up North,” said Bob. “Because it looks like you all have brought all the ugly ones down here with you!” As you have probably figured, besides being fed up with his Yankee plant manager, Bob was also fed up with his job and quit the next day.

This hot summer I am thankful that air conditioning was invented, even if it did bring a lot of Northerners here to the South. Besides, most of the ones I’ve met through the years are good people. And a lot of the ladies that came down here look pretty good, too.

Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at

Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at