Born February 14, 1874, J. Irvine Lyle was raised on the family farm in Fayette County, Kentucky. In 1896, he received a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering 1902, from the Kentucky State University, now the University of Kentucky. While at the University he was a member of the varsity football team, Sigma Chi social fraternity and Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society.
In 1899, he joined the Buffalo Forge Company, manufacturers of fan engine equipment. In 1908, as part of Carrier Air Conditioning Company, a subsidiary of Buffalo Forge, he and Willis Carrier developed the first scientific air conditioning system. This marked the beginning of the air conditioning industry for which he and Carrier are recognized as pioneers.
In 1915, Mr. Lyle, Carrier, and five others, including his brother Ernest Lyle and L. Logan Lewis, both UK engineering graduates, formed the Carrier Engineering Corporation with in investment of $32,600. Lyle and Carrier held an equal number of shares in the company. While Willis Carrier was the engineering genius of the new science of air conditioning, Irvine Lyle was the business genius serving as business manager, treasurer and star salesman. Not only did he sell actual air conditioning systems, he also sold the concept of air conditioning and its benefits to engineers, architects and the public at large, and made it into an industry.
The earliest installations of air conditioning systems were in textile mills followed by a tobacco processing and cigar plant, the world famous Astor Hotel, Madison Square Garden, and the Rivioli, Paramount and Roxy theaters in New York City, the bargain basement of the J. L Hudson Company, Detroit, and the U.S. Capitol.
In 1939, Lyle was made president of Carrier and remained until his death in 1942. In addition to his business acumen, Lyle was widely recognized for his technical expertise. He was credited with numerous inventions and was the author of countless technical papers related to air conditioning.
Active in professional organizations, Lyle served as president of the American Society of Heating and Ventilating Engineers and of the Refrigerating Machinery Association and was a member of the American Society of Refrigerating Engineers. He was a member of the Advisory Committee of the National Council of Defense during WWI; a member of the board of directors of the Syracuse, New York Chamber of Commerce; a steadfast supporter of the Salvation Army; a director of the Plainfield National Bank (New York); the Carrier Engineering Company, Ltd., London, England; Carrier-Russ Engineering Company, London; and the Airite Corporation, New York. He was treasurer of Tobacco Treating Co., Carrier Construction Company, and the W. J. Gamble Company.
Mr. Lyle was a close friend of the College’s first dean, F. Paul Anderson, himself a pioneer in the field of air conditioning. He was a frequent lecturer to students in the UK College of Engineering. Mr. Lyle was a member of the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees (1916 – 1924), and served as president of the UK Alumni Association. Along with another UK graduate, he formed the UK Alumni Club of New York City in 1903. He was instrumental in building and financing the University’s first football stadium. In recognition of his success, Mr. Lyle was awarded the honorary degree Doctor of Law by the University of Kentucky in 1932. He was elected to the University’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni, in 1965.
Known for his affinity for owning, breeding and racing standard bred horses, Mr. Lyle was the director of the Hambletonian Society, and treasurer of the Trotting Horse Club of America. Lyle was married to the former Elizabeth Biggerstaff. The two were parents of Cornelia Elizabeth Lyle Snyder and Joel Irvine Lyle III.