A Brief History of Air Compressors

The history of pneumatic systems can be traced back to the advent of the bellows in ancient times.  This was the first “compressed air” device, used to increase the airflow around a fire, thus feeding and intensifying the flame.  The human lung is simply not capable of producing the force of blast that a bellows can put together, useful neither for heating things to superhot temperatures nor for super-freezing the door.  It was only after the invention of the bellows allowed for hotter and hotter fires, that some forms of metallurgy and production were even possible, as their processes required temperatures that were previously unreachable within a controlled fire.   

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Bellows continued on as the most common form of air compression technology, being used in various capacities across the world.  Every nation had its own version of the basic bellows.   Some hand-operated, some driven by foot-power--each one unique to its people. Here we find the genesis of items like pressure tubing, pneumatic tools, and air compressors.  

The vacuum pump was introduced to the world in the middle of the 17th century.  The 18th and 19th centuries saw the rise of compressed air as a true power source.   In High-powered blasting units were becoming more common in some factories.   Steam powered air compressors were noticed to be incredibly efficient, especially as it became clear that compressed air was a better system for energy transfer than even steam power itself, and could be used to cover a wider area for the same amount of energy required. 

It was during the 20th century that compressed air tool systems really came into their own.  The earlier parts of the century saw the dawn of a new age of production.  The new automotive and aircraft manufacturing industries had a major overhaul as compressed air technology exploded.  Assembly lines became more efficient, as the air compression systems allowed for quick, intricate assembly speeds of larger, heavier items, such as trains.

These advances in machinery and assembly led to a boom in technological advancement.  Two large, global-scale wars certainly moved things along, as suddenly there was a worldwide drive for tanks, submarines, railroads,  and aircraft.   These requirements led to further perfection of the air compressors, with modern systems becoming commonplace before the dawn of the 21st century.

The technological drive of air compression systems helped shaped the social structures of our planet in a very potent way.  Its mechanical history can be traced back to the earliest origins of human innovation.  We do not even know who invented the first bellows.  The technology is so old that it has been with us for as long as we’ve been bothering to record history.  It’s not going anywhere.  Air compression continues to be an excellent supplement to electricity, providing efficient, powerful energy systems to factories and manufacturing plants across the globe. 

Mary Margaret EppsComment