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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about refrigeration. In 1851, a doctor gave up his medical career and received a patent for a prototype of mechanical refrigeration.


CURWOOD: Welcome back to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

[MUSIC: Ike Smith, "Mabel’s Dream," CRUMB (sndtrk) (Ryko – 1995)]

CURWOOD: As the weather warms up, you can head to the fridge for a tall glass of iced tea or a frosty mug of lemonade, all thanks to what happened in a sick room in Florida 160 years ago. That’s when Dr. John Gorrie got the idea for, what would become the precursor to, the modern refrigerator. 1842 was an especially hot, humid summer in the gulf-port town of Apalachicola, Florida and yellow fever had broken out in the town. So, Dr. Gorrie designed a mechanical ice-making machine to cool his patients down. He eventually got so caught up in the idea that he quit his medical practice, went to work in his lab and won the first U.S. patent for mechanical refrigeration in May 1851.

Before the refrigerator, people often used water, cool or frozen, to chill their food. The Greeks dug huge pits insulated with wood and straw and filled them with snow. Romans stored their food in clay pots, surrounded by water and fanned by slaves. And centuries ago, the English wrapped blocks of ice in flannel, packed them in salt, and buried them underground. But ordinary ice goes pretty fast in the middle of an August heatwave, so everyone who enjoys a quick and easy cold one during the hottest months might want to stop and lift a glass to Dr. John Gorrie. Hear, hear!


CURWOOD: And for this week, that’s the Living on Earth Almanac.



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