John Houston

John Houston is the first inventor to receive a US Patent that clearly describes an “air-based, regenerative heat pump system” that was capable of recycling both heat and mechanical work to dramatically increase the co-efficient of performance (COP) of the system.

In the early 1920s, the technology was too advanced, and he was prevented from bringing his invention to market. The following is a re-print of a short article about John Houston that appeared in Fate magazine in November, 1956.

Around 1920 John Houston of Prineville, Ore., claimed to have invented a way to take heat out of the air with condensers. The first poorly insulated rig of his that I saw boiled water in 20 minutes. The device was claimed to replace fuels, to be good for household heating or refrigeration and to be able to run railroad engines or steamboats.

Houston and his father formed a company of 20 stockholders and Huston built an up-to-date model of his device. This model performed better than expected, and Houston and his father took it to San Francisco to demonstrate it. They hoped to interest manufacturers in building the device on a royalty basis.

I talked to Houston after he returned to Prineville. He told me, “The machine can be made so hot that it will destroy itself. Reverse the machine, and the temperature will go as low as 250 below zero.”

He said manufacturers in San Francisco refused to build the machine because it would throw too many men out of work. It would also kill the sale of fuels, the major cargo of steamships at that time.

Houston also told me he had patented his device in Canada and England. The USA patent issued later.

Houston evidently got nowhere with his device and I do not know what became of it.

(Fate Magazine, November 1956, “Report from the Readers” section, sent in by Bert Grater, of White Salmon, Washington.)


Here is the image from Houston’s US Patent.

Houston - 1930 Side
In the lower right corner, you can see the electric motor driving the compressor unit, that is also connected to the “air motor” that is operated by the expanding gasses in the decompression part of the cycle. In its day, Houston’s invention was the most efficient machine ever devised for the simultaneous production of industrial amounts of both heat and refrigeration effects. If produced today, it would still be more efficient than anything you can currently buy!

To understand the importance of this invention, please read the pages on Heat Pumps and Conservation.


To read Houston’s Patent, click HERE.

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