Ice, Ice, Baby - A Short History Of Refrigeration

Before refrigeration came along the only way to keep things cold was to collect ice. This was usually stored underground and used to preserve foods during warmer periods. The need to nip out every time it snowed and shovel the stuff in the cellar meant that the use of ice was never really widespread other than among the wealthy. Often storage was specially built and insulated with straw or other materials. Many stately homes will have an ice house somewhere in the grounds.

Experiments with artificial refrigeration began in the 1750s. In 1758 Benjamin Franklin (yes, the bloke with the kite and the lightning) along with John Hadley, a Cambridge professor, carried out experiments to cool things using evaporation. They managed to produce a thin film of ice on a thermometer but were still a long way from the fish finger. Various other people kicked around the idea including Michael Faraday (the electricity pioneer) who in 1820 was able to liquefy gasses including ammonia by using high pressures and low temperatures.
It wasn’t until 1834 that the first patent for a vapour compression refrigeration system didn’t come until 1834 courtesy of Jacob Perkins, but whilst it worked it wasn’t a commercial success.

Making Ice
It was an American, John Gorrie who created the first system to refrigerate water to make ice in 1842. Furthermore, he came up with the idea of using his system to cool air in buildings, the basis of what we now know as air conditioning. Another American Alexander Twining patented vapour-compression refrigeration systems in 1850 and 1853 and he gets the credit for introducing commercial refrigeration to the United States.

In a parallel development James Harrison introduced commercial ice making in Australia in 1854. By 1861 twelve of his systems were in use in meat packing factories and breweries so Aussies were sorted for a barbecue and a cold beer.

By 1914 commercial refrigeration was common place but the technology still involved harmful chemicals, mainly ammonia. It wasn’t until the 1920s when CFCs started to be developed that safe refrigeration came along that could be scaled down for use in a domestic environment.

Cold in Motion
Experiments with refrigerated shipping began in the 1870s. They succeeded commercially in 1882 when a New Zealand ship the Dunedin was fitted with a refrigeration unit. The use of refrigerated ships led to a boom in meat and dairy products in South America and Australasia.
Refrigerated railway wagons were first introduced in the USA in the 1840s. By 1867 these had been perfected using ice tanks and ventilator flaps at each end to create a flow of cold air through the vehicle whilst the train was moving.

By the mid-20th century refrigeration units were small enough to be installed in road vehicles. This allowed the transport of perishables and frozen foods to just about any location. Combined with changes in technology that made refrigeration safe and affordable for home use this led to a consumer boom in demand for and consumption of frozen products.

Refrigeration Today
Although the use of CFC refrigerants was cut in the 1980s as they were found to be harmful to the ozone layer when released it’s a rare home in the west that now doesn’t have a fridge. The use of fridges for storing food both in the home and in stores has led to a change in eating habits. Because food can be stored for longer and transported further items which were once seasonal are now available all year round. Fish and meat can be frozen and kept safely for long periods of time.

Author Bio:
Nick Thorping is a freelance writer who socialises with people who work within the food production industry. She understands how important 
commercial refrigeration is to people in the food production sector regarding the upkeep of their businesses.
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