Back in the April 5 issue ofThe News, I asked readers for opinions as to when mechanical refrigeration first began.

The first three responders to the question all agreed on the founder and the technology, and they were in pretty close agreement on the year as well.

These readers point to Dr. John Gorrie (1802-1855) for his invention of an open cycle ice machine that dates back to the 1840s, although its patent came in 1851.

Readers Salute Gorrie

Chris Pamplin of American GeoThermal cited an article in the December 1998ASHRAE Journaland a quote that described the creation as the "first ever to be used for mechanical refrigeration and air conditioning." (Pamplin did mention William Cullen for the invention in 1775 of a machine to freeze water and an 1835 ice producing machine from Jacob Perkins, but he also votes for Gorrie.)

He further noted the machine had a noble intention, for "Gorrie was trying to treat his malaria patients in Florida with comfort cooling. Florida recognized him as their greatest scientist of the time and erected a statue of him in 1913 and placed it in Statuary Hall of the Capitol Building. This hall was established by Congress for each state to recognize its most esteemed citizen."

Pamplin said more attention would have been accorded Dr. Gorrie had he not inadvertently been "fighting a monster called the ice harvesting and ice box/refrigerator industry that saw such inventions putting an end to their livelihood. Obviously, it eventually did."

James Casey, a professional engineer and past president of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES), also gave kudos to Dr. Gorrie based on his reading of a book by Roger Thevenot called A History of Refrigeration Throughout the World. Jim said the invention was an "open cycle air machine developed to provide relief for patients in Florida."

C. Daniel Boyette, service and residential manager for Benson's Heating & Air Conditioning of Tallahassee, provided more details:

"In 1841, John Gorrie, a physician in Apalachicola, Fla. (a town about two hours from Tallahassee), invented an ice machine based on past inventors' theories that used the principle that liquid extracts heat from the air, making it cooler. Likewise, when a gas that is under pressure is released, it absorbs heat. He found that patients of his with malaria and yellow fever would recover faster if they were kept cool."

Three votes do not necessarily end the debate, and advocates with other ideas are encouraged to come forward with alternatives.

And, just to keep things stirred up for a few more months, Pamplin has raised another thought-provoking topic. In effect, he wonders what HVACR invention in the past 20 years will have the most lasting impact over the next 20-plus years.

His suggestion is the scroll compressor as refined and machined by Copeland Corp.

Do you agree? Do you have any other nominations?

Peter Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260, 847-622-7266 (fax), or

Publication date: 07/05/2004