Dr Gorrie and Flash Freezing

Dr John Gorrie in Florida began using ice in his hospital to treat his fever patients. But, when a shipment of ice from New England was delayed due to hurricanes, he was forced to figure out ways to create artificial ice.

Around this time, breakthroughs in thermodynamics meant that scientists and experimenters had discovered that a vacuum had a lower temperature. And, changes in air pressure could result in cooling. Thus, Dr Gorrie created his cooling machine. However, he died penniless because the Tudor Company (the incumbent) attacked him with a smear campaign that implicated that the new refrigeration method resulted in bacteria.

Despite this setback, the time was ripe for innovation and innovators around the world began creating refrigeration systems. A French innovator, Ferdinand Carre, then created a boxed refrigerator which was used extensively in the southern US states. Soon, innovators kept improving these refrigerators till they became commonplace.

A big breakthrough followed – experimentalist Clarence Birdseye learnt an ice fishing technique from an Inuit in Canada and noticed that fish that froze really quick retained their flavor. This “flash freezing” technique became the basis of his innovations at the New York fisheries and created today’s frozen foods industry.


Inventions and scientific discoveries tend to come in clusters, where a handful of geographically dispersed investigators stumble independently onto the very same discovery. The isolated genius coming up with an idea that no one else could even dream of is actually the exception, not the rule. Most discoveries become imaginable at a very specific moment in history, after which point multiple people start to imagine them.  – Steven Johnson, on refrigeration

Source and thanks to: How we got to now by Steven Johnson

(This story and quote is part of “The 200 words project.” I aim to synthesize a story from a book (and, occasionally a blog or article) I’ve read within 200 words consecutive Sundays for around 45 weeks of the year.)

2 thoughts on “Dr Gorrie and Flash Freezing”

Comments are closed.