Controlling our environment is the base purpose of technology. Nearly every advent of new technology has been built with the purpose of overcoming our physical limitations and overcoming our environment.

Technology such as cell phones and the Internet tend to get a lot of recognition as fundamental elements of an advanced society. And, while there can be little doubt as to the extent that these technologies help improve our lives on a daily basis, I believe there are overlooked, less glamorous technologies, that are fundamental to advanced societies. One of these is basic technological building blocks is refrigeration.

Refrigeration is a technology which very few people in America fully appreciate, even perhaps within the HVACR business. So, toward that end, I thought it would be a great time to stop and celebrate all that is accomplishable with the base technology of refrigeration.

The Beginning

Ice harvesting for refrigeration purposes dates back to prehistoric times, and was popular all the way through the 1900s. But refrigeration, as the chemical process we know it as today, was first properly demonstrated in 1756 at the University of Glasgow in Scotland by William Cullen.

Despite this demonstration, as well as a few further experiments and other prior commercial attempts at marketing commercial refrigeration, refrigeration didn’t take off commercially in the United States until 1856. Alexander Twining is commonly credited with the commercial success of refrigeration within the United States.

Immediately this new technology was applied to shipping, which eventually led to several economic booms as well as wider distribution of meat and dairy within Australia and South America.

The first domestic mechanical refrigerator was available in American around 1911. Improvements were quickly made by the 1920s, making refrigeration safer by changing the chemical compounds used, increasing its use and proliferation. Eventually, in the 1970s, scientists discovered these chemicals were causing damage to the ozone layer, and a quick change was made, leading to the common refrigerators today.

Applications in Current Day America

Refrigeration in America is so prolific that it’s nearly impossible to go anywhere without encountering the benefits of refrigeration. So, let’s go down the basic list.

• Refrigeration

This is so critical and crucial in our current day society. They’re in every home — indeed, without home refrigeration our shopping and food needs would be greatly changed. They’re in every business that deals with food or beverages — restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, bars, pubs, etc. Any business that has any interaction with food has to have serious commercial refrigeration. And, speaking from experience, if they break, even temporarily, a nightmare ensues.

Already refrigeration has this level of impact without even talking about distribution. Not only would our ability to store the food itself be severally impacted, our ability to distribute meat, dairy, vegetables, fruit — everything — would suddenly become very limited. The current distribution system relies on widespread distribution, made possible in part by refrigeration. If that was to disappear, who knows how we’d continue to function as a society. Truly, refrigeration is an overwhelmingly large part of our ability to feed our country.

• Air Conditioning

Could you imagine summer without air conditioning? Working in the office, sleeping at home, driving in your car? Being inside, anywhere, without air conditioning? Especially in this record hot summer. Simply said, it would be nearly unbearable.

Imagine how much a simple lack of air conditioning would affect everything. Businesses would experience a sharp decline in customers and sales as people would be frantic to get in and get out.

And sitting around the house wouldn’t be an option. Everyone would be piling down to the local waterhole, causing a flood of humanity.

Many situations would be simply unmanageable. Work would be affected, family life would be affected, and business would be affected. Being able to stay cool in the summer is a basic human need, and refrigeration (air conditioning) makes this possible.

• Manufacturing

There are many uses of refrigeration in manufacturing. For example, it’s commonly used to liquefy gases such as propane, methane, and oxygen. A wide variety of plants and refineries require a certain temperature to work at, and can only achieve this with refrigeration. There would be a tremendous impact to our manufacturing ability without refrigeration.


When considering all the roles refrigeration has played, and continues to play in America, it’s clear to see it’s a fundamental building block our society was built upon. There’s a fissure in the American psyche when it comes to refrigeration, in the sense that most fail to recognize the important role it serves. So, although refrigeration has become so commonplace in America that the vast majority of us never even consider the amazing benefits, we really should acknowledge and respect the role refrigeration has played in the making of America, and our great society.

Publication date: 8/6/2012