The pending arrival of the International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition (AHR Expo) in Orlando, Fla., is a reminder of another milestone.

The annual event is co-sponsored by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI). ASHRAE is currently in the midst of marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of its predecessor, the American Society of Refrigerating Engineers (ASRE).

In fact, it was some of the first fanfare for the anniversary that touched off a project of mine during 2004 that explored the beginning of refrigeration.

You may recall several columns last year dealt with feedback from readers. Some suggested that the first ability to harvest ice from a lake and use it for food preservation constituted the creation of refrigeration.

But by majority vote, the creation was determined to date back to the 1840s when Dr. John Gorrie invented an open-cycle ice machine that was used in the treatment of malaria and yellow fever. The patent for the technology came in 1851.

Birth Of An Industry

If that was indeed the start, a great deal took place in the years that followed. A pivotal time came at the period of ASRE's founding a century ago.

During 2004, Dr. Preston McNall, an ASHRAE fellow and life member, used the centennial to research developments as reported in 1904 and 1905 issues of the trade journal Ice and Refrigeration. He wrote about his findings in the June 2004 issue of the ASHRAE Journal. The folks at the Journal have given me permission to review some of that information here.

New applications and equipment included three 35-ton refrigeration machines furnishing chilled water for refrigeration and provision storage rooms at the Astor Hotel in New York City; an ice plant where river water is brought in to cool the ammonia at the Peoples Pure Ice Co. in Chicago; the use of ammonia piping from the St. Louis Refrigerating and Cold Storage Co. several blocks to the Union Electric Co. so the ammonia could be used to freeze up leaks at a large cofferdam; and a portable skating rink made by the Remington Machine Co. for a vaudeville performer that could be transported to various venues.

There were visionaries in the early days of the 20th Century. Ice and Refrigeration magazine had articles on combining refrigeration, heating, and electricity in one energy plant for distribution to customers; having refrigeration on farms for storing harvested fruit on site to be shipped when it was most profitable; and the idea of distributing refrigeration (not air conditioning) to apartments and homes.

Another section of McNall's story also caught my attention. It concerned "ice and refrigeration abroad." It was about 15 years or so ago when I first started to travel to Europe each year to report on developments that could have an impact in the United States. In 2004, I added China to the travel agenda. I now realize that I was at least 85 years late in seeing firsthand what was happening overseas.

Here were some developments across the oceans that Ice and Refrigeration magazine reported on 100 years ago:

  • The Great Siberian Railroad provided refrigerating cars, boxes, and cold storage to ship butter to Manchuria. (By the way, the article noted the railroad company was looking to expand business to much of the Pacific Rim.)

  • The French introduced a method of making clear ice under pressure to dispel the air, rather than distilling the water. The water was also "ozonated" for purity. (Today, you can go to such refrigeration trade shows as those sponsored by the Food Marketing Institute and the National Restaurant Association and see a wide range of ways to ensure water purity.)

    The upcoming AHR Expo is sure to have an array of new equipment and lots of discussions of future technologies. But it is quite clear that, on the refrigeration side, innovation has been going on for anywhere from 100 to 150 years.

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

    Publication date: 01/10/2005