As our poor city continues to broil, it’s worth remembering a man who dedicated much of his career to cooling down humanity: the great John Gorrie, who was convinced that an effective ice machine would be key to combating one of the 19th century’s most dreaded diseases:
Dr. Gorrie became convinced that cold was the healer. He noted that “Nature would terminate the fevers by changing the seasons.” Ice, cut in the winter in northern lakes, stored in underground ice houses, and shipped, packed in sawdust, around the Florida Keys by sailing vessel, in mid-summer could be purchased dockside on the Gulf Coast. In 1844, he began to write a series of articles in Apalachicola’s “Commercial Advertiser” newspaper, entitled, “On the prevention of Malarial Diseases”. He used the Nom De Plume, “Jenner”, a tribute to Edward Jenner, (1749 – 1823), the discoverer of smallpox vaccine. According to these articles, he had constructed an imperfect refrigeration machine by May, 1844, carrying out a proposal he had advanced in 1842…
“If the air were highly compressed, it would heat up by the energy of compression. If this compressed air were run through metal pipes cooled with water, and if this air cooled to the water temperature was expanded down to atmospheric pressure again, very low temperatures could be obtained, even low enough to freeze water in pans in a refrigerator box.” The compressor could be powered by horse, water, wind driven sails, or steampower.
Gorrie eventually earned a hard-fought patent for his machine, but investors blanched and he died without making a cent. The article cited above blames “the ice lobby” for frustrating Gorrie’s dreams—presumably the traders who didn’t want their naturally harvested commodity to be one-upped by a manmade alternative. A sad case, but we do love the idea that the ice industry once had enough political muscle to frustrate the march of technological progress. We’d like to know more about the PR tactics they employed.