Air conditioning is one of those bits of equipment that has become a forgone conclusion in modern cars, especially in a Cadillac. The first attempt at artificially cooling the air inside a motor vehicle came as early as 1884, when William Whitely came up with the “All-Weather Eye”, which utilized fans attached to a horse-drawn carriage’s axles blowing air across trays filled with ice, venting the cooled air into the carriage. The system was less than practical, as it required hundreds of pounds of ice per hour to function.
Practical auto air conditioning as we know it first became available from Cadillac for the 1953 model year. The Frigidaire system could also be had on Buick and Oldsmobile models, but was much more common on Cadillac models. It was available either as a factory option or as a dealer-installed extra. Adding A/C to your Caddy cost over $600 then, or around $6,000 now.
A dead giveaway to tell if a 1950s or 1960s Cadillac sedan had air conditioning was the fresh air intake vents located just aft of the C-pillars on the rear deck. This is where air entered, inducted by twin fans mounted in the trunk. It was then cooled and dehydrated by the evaporator. One of the downsides of the trunk-mounted system was it could only be adjusted by a knob on the rear parcel shelf, not by the driver.
Rather than having the trunk-mounted unit blasting air straight out of the parcel shelf, Cadillac routed the cold air to ceiling mounted vents above the rear seat. This allowed for better air distribution in the passenger compartment as well. In order to move the air without obstructing rearward vision, the vent tubes were made of clear Plexiglas. One downside to the ceiling vents was they tended to produce condensation, which sometimes dripped on to rear-seat passengers.
General Motors’ Harrison Radiator Division figured out how to move the air conditioning systems to the engine compartment, freeing up space in the trunk and allowing the driver to control the system. In 1956, the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham became the first car to offer air conditioning as standard equipment.
In 1964, Cadillac introduced Comfort Control, which allowed some of the air to be channeled forward to the heater core. This meant greater control regulating air temperature. By mixing hot and cold air, Comfort Control allowed air to be delivered at a specific temperature, not unlike current automatic climate control systems.
The fresh air vents on the exterior were featured on Cadillacs from 1953 to 1971, at which time they were phased out.
By 1969, more than half the new cars sold in the U.S. were equipped with optional A/C. As of 1977, Cadillac was still the only General Motors marque that offered air conditioning as standard equipment. It almost goes without saying that today, all Cadillac models feature air conditioning as standard, and all models offer ventilated and heated seats as well.