The history of air compressors as a tool dates back to antiquity. Man has used air compression for thousands of years to heat his home, cook food, and move objects. The earliest type of compressor was a bellows used to blast compressed air onto a fire. These simple compressing units were either powered by man or animals to compress. These were replaced by mechanical air compressors which were used for industrial purposes. With advances in science, compressors were reduced in size and found uses outside of factories as aids for underwater diving or to power pneumatic tools and drills.
Air compression devices have been used since 2000 BC and were made of leather. These first air compression devices were pumped open and closed manually. This model was improved upon with the addition of handles and intake valves. But, the newer version was still a hand or foot powered low pressure device used mainly to fan fires. Later, the foot powered compressors were replaced by water wheels.
With science advancing, new air compressors were invented to expand the uses for compression. In 1650, German scientist Otto von Guericke, devised a single piston and cylinder air pump. In 1797, the first motorized compressor was designed by George Medhurst of England. By the 18th century, scientist discovered that compressed air could be used as a source of energy to power and move items. The discovery happened when water boiling in a container exploded and moved an item. After this discovery, compressed air was used for rock drilling. In the 19th century, Paris devised an air compressor grid system to power their clocks with a pulse of air every minute. Paris, also in the 19th century, experimented with the idea of air compressor systems as an alternative to electricity.
With the birth of the industrial age, air compression gained new uses in the field of manufacturing. The 20th century saw the use of piston compression air compressors in industry. In 1930, the screw compressor, first invented in 1878 Germany, offered quieter forms of air compression. By the end of the 20th century there were three main types of compressors used. The reciprocating, or, piston compressor, was used for oil refineries, gas pipelines, and refrigeration plants. They draw air in through an intake valve then out through an outlet. Its pistons are driven by a crank shaft to deliver air at high pressures. The rotary compressors, a type of gas compressor, emerged after the piston compressor. They deliver larger volumes of high pressure air which is good for industrial use. These compressors use a continuous sweeping motion to limit pulsation. And, the jet compressor uses pressurized water or gas to force air out a cylinder or diffuser.
Today, compressors are used in all walks of life. They are found on construction sites, factories, medical offices and homes. The history of air compressors will continue to evolve as technological advances create different demands for compressed air and the quality of compressors improve.