It wasn’t until last night that John Gorrie became one of my favorite people – ever. I’m not sure if I had even heard his name until then, but now I am pretty sure he should be on Mount Rushmore and lumped in with names like Salk, Bell, Marconi and Tesla.
What prompted my discovery? I was wasting time last night, listening to a monsoon storm outside and thought, “It is going to be SO humid tomorrow, and 110 degrees – I’m sure thankful for AIR CONDITIONING.…I wonder where that even came about.”
Enter Google, and a few minutes alter I learned about one John Gorrie, whose invented the first successful ice machine, which technology eventually became our modern AC.
Ice, refrigeration and AC. What a legacy!
What’s more amazing is WHEN he did it: 1842. Pre-electricity. He figured out how to make a manual “compressor” to make ice.
The reason he wanted to make ice is because he was a doctor, working with yellow fever patients in Florida. He noticed that the sickness was usually only in found hot climates, and wondered if cooling the environment for the patients helped them be more comfortable, and reduce transmission. Turns out, that it did. (Reminder, this was 50 years before anyone understood that malaria was carried by mosquitos.)
However, up until that point, he had to have huge slabs of ice trucked to his clinic, which he would suspend from the ceiling so the cooler, heavier air would flow down on the patients. Hauling slabs of ice from the Great Lakes to Florida wasn’t working out so well, so he decided to try and figure out how to make his own “artificial” ice.
The technology of the mechanical ice machine was eventually used for modern, electrical ice-making, refrigeration and air conditioning.
Can you imagine a world without refrigerators, freezers, ice or AC? I can, but it would be horrible. The ability to produce ice changed our world.
(Hold on a sec, while I take a sip of my drink that was made with the ice maker in my kitchen.)
Aaanyways, I thought it cool that such a great thing was created by a doctor looking to help his patients. I’m surprised I didn’t know more about him.
If you want more info on John Gorrie, there are a few links at the bottom of the post. Here a a few tidbits I found interesting:
• He was born to Scottish parents on the West Indies island of Nevis in 1803. For those paying attention, that is where Alexander Hamilton was born about 50 years earlier.
• He grew up in South Carolina, went to med school in New York, and then started his practice in Florida.
• In 1852 he received a US Patent for his ice machine.
• However, he fell into the same problem so many inventors do: having a good idea, and actually running with it are two different things. He had a partner who died, and John’s attempts to market a functioning ice machine didn’t go well. Competition came up and smashed him.
• “Humiliated by criticism, financially ruined, and his health broken, Gorrie died in seclusion on June 29, 1855.” (link)