A cool history lesson

BRIGHTON, MI — Refrigeration Research Inc. (RRI) houses an extensive museum collection of various refrigerators and memorabilia. Did you know that in 1880, an ice refrigerator manufactured by George N. Pierce was insulated with charcoal?

This ice refrigerator sits inside the front entrance of RRI.

Edward Bottum Sr., 88, founder and president of the company, got an early start in the industry by supplying his grandmother’s 1880 Pierce Arrow Chest with ice during his childhood days.

Bottum has lived through the evolution of refrigeration. He takes pride in giving museum tours and explaining to visitors the different refrigerators and other artifacts inside.

“He will tell you a detailed history starting with when the product was made, by whom, what was unique about it, and how much the product cost,” said museum curator Jack Barnes.

Bottum founded the museum about 13 years ago, after he turned over the reins of his business to his children. The company, founded in 1944 in Detroit, MI, rebuilt refrigerators that were later resold. This was good because many people couldn’t afford to purchase a new one.

Eventually, the company started making component parts for refrigerators, which they have been doing for more than 37 years. The company ships components to customers all over the world.

In the beginning, ice people fought the new competition heralded by refrigerators because they were losing business. Trying to regain customers, the ice business would tell customers that refrigerators were unhealthy because the food would dry out.

The next year, Bottum said, companies installed devices to maintain moisture in refrigeration.

In his museum, he has many models that are operating and are used by staff members to keep soft drinks cool. Here are a few models that are in the basement of RRI:

  • An operational 1934 Crosley Shelvador — The Crosley became a sales leader because it allowed individuals to place food in shelves on the door.
  • A 1918 Kelvinator Condensing Unit — One of the first generation for producing household electric refrigeration; this design began in 1914, and was put into production in 1918.
  • An Audiffren-Singrun — This was patented by a French priest, Marcel Audiffren, and a physicist, in 1894. Its original design was for cooling liquid such as wine for monks. The French patent stated that “It can be cranked by hand or driven by an engine.”
  • A 1926 Savage Arms Early Ice Cream Unit — This unit is one of two types of early hermetics in which the refrigerant did not come in contact with the motor windings. The Savage Arms Compressor has no seal, no piston, or internal moving parts.

In addition to refrigerators, there are collections of papers and history regarding tools in the profession. There are the Harry Alter Catalogues from 1933 through 1987. There are profiles on industry leaders, many of whom Edward Bottum Sr. knew personally.

The Refrigeration Research Museum is located at 525 N. Fifth St., Brighton, MI. For more information, call Jack Barnes at 810-227-1151.

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