100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Refrigeration
Year of Invention: 1859

What Is It? A machine to keep food at a constant cold temperature to prevent
decay and rot.

Who Invented It? Ferdinand Carre (Paris, France)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Even in early twentieth-century America, practical, working refrigerators did not exist, and the fear of being poisoned by food purchased at the local market was an everyday concern. Essential items like eggs, chicken, fish, milk, and cheese that had been improperly stored killed hundreds every year and made thousands seriously ill.

Refrigeration for the home, store, factory, truck, and cargo ship solved this mounting crisis. Refrigeration inhibited the growth of bacteria, stalled rotting, and enabled people to ship perishable foods. Refrigeration saved countless lives and made it possible for cities to continue to grow.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Ice was the only source of cold for many thousands of years. Blocks of ice were cut from ponds in the winter and stacked in underground pits lined with an insulator like straw. Early Greeks built such icehouses. In the 1300s, the Chinese discovered that evaporating salt brine created intense cold. This technology had spread to Italy by 1600 and was used to freeze the first ice skating rink in London.

In 1805 Oliver Evans invented a cooling machine using compressed ether in his Pennsylvania workshop. But it didn’t cool enough to do much good.

In 1844, Dr. John Gorrie took advantage of the new electric motor (invented in 1831) and invented an expanding air-cooling machine. But it seemed better suited to cooling the humid air in his Florida home than his food.

Metal, insulated iceboxes for the home were invented in the 1830s, appearing almost simultaneously in Europe and America. A new industry was created to deliver blocks of ice door-to-door from ice wagons. People slid a block of ice into the ice compartment of their home icebox to keep food cold. Still, spoilage in iceboxes was a common and major problem.

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