Jump to content

John Gorrie

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
John Gorrie
statue of John Gorrie
Born(1803-10-03)October 3, 1803
DiedJune 29, 1855(1855-06-29) (aged 52)
Occupation(s)Physician, scientist, inventor

John B. Gorrie (October 3, 1803 – June 29, 1855) was a Nevisian-born American physician and scientist, credited as the inventor of mechanical refrigeration.[1][2]

Born on the Island of Nevis in the Leeward Islands of the West Indies to Scottish parents on October 3, 1803, he spent his childhood in South Carolina. He received his medical education at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District of New York in Fairfield, New York.

In 1833, he moved to Apalachicola, Florida, a port city on the Gulf coast. As well as being resident physician at two hospitals, Gorrie was active in the community. At various times he served as a council member, postmaster, president of the Bank of Pensacola's Apalachicola Branch, Secretary of his Masonic Lodge, and one of the founding vestrymen of Trinity Episcopal Church.

Gorrie Monument in Apalachicola, Florida.

Gorrie's medical research involved the study of tropical diseases, particularly yellow fever. At the time the theory that bad air — mal-aria — caused diseases was a prevalent hypothesis, and based on this theory, he urged draining the swamps and the cooling of sickrooms.[3] For this he cooled rooms with ice in a basin suspended from the ceiling. Cool air, being heavier, flowed down across the patient and through an opening near the floor.

Experiments with artificial cooling[edit]

Since it was necessary to transport ice by boat from the northern lakes, Gorrie experimented with making artificial ice.[2]

He first mechanically produced ice in 1844.[4] After 1845, Gorrie gave up his medical practice to pursue refrigeration products. By 1850 he was able to routinely produce ice the size of bricks.[5] On May 6, 1851, Gorrie was granted Patent No. 8080 for a machine to make ice. The original model of this machine and the scientific articles he wrote are at the Smithsonian Institution. In 1835, patents for "Apparatus and means for producing ice and in cooling fluids" had been granted in England and Scotland to American-born inventor Jacob Perkins, who became known as "the father of the refrigerator". Impoverished, Gorrie sought to raise money to manufacture his machine, but the venture failed when his partner died. Humiliated by criticism, financially ruined, and his health broken, Gorrie died in seclusion on June 29, 1855. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery.[6][7]: 195 

Another version of Gorrie's "cooling system"[citation needed] was used when President James A. Garfield was dying in 1881. Naval engineers built a box filled with cloths that had been soaked in melted ice water. Then by allowing hot air to blow on the cloths it decreased the room temperature by 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The problem with this method was essentially the same problem Gorrie had. It required an enormous amount of ice to keep the room cooled continuously. Yet it was an important event in the history of air conditioning. It proved that Gorrie had the right idea, but was unable to capitalize on it.[8] The first practical refrigeration system in 1854, patented in 1855, was built by James Harrison in Geelong, Australia.[9]

Monuments and memorials[edit]

Schematic of Gorrie's ice machine


  1. ^ Ice and Refrigeration. Nickerson & Collins Company. 1919. p. 235.
  2. ^ a b c "John Gorrie". Architect of the Capitol.
  3. ^ Burke, James (2003). Circles: Fifty Round Trips Through History Technology Science Culture. Simon and Schuster. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-7432-4976-8.
  4. ^ [1], Florida Historical Marker F-413; accessed April 15, 2022.
  5. ^ [2], John Gorrie Museum Florida State Park; accessed April 15, 2022.
  6. ^ Federal Writers' Project (1939). Florida. A Guide to the Southernmost State. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 490.
  7. ^ Schafer, Daniel L. (2013). Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. and the Atlantic World. Slave Trader, Plantation Owner, Emancipator. University Press of Florida. ISBN 9780813044620.
  8. ^ Gorrie's fridge, ufl.edu; accessed December 20, 2015.
  9. ^ Bruce-Wallace, L. G. "Harrison, James (1816–1893)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. ISBN 978-0-522-84459-7. ISSN 1833-7538. OCLC 70677943. Retrieved 27 November 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Raymond B. Becker. John Gorrie, M.D.: Father of Air Conditioning and Mechanical Refrigeration, Carlton Press, 1972.
  • John Gladstone. John Gorrie, the Visionary, ASHRAE Journal, December 1998. PDF file
  • V. M. Sherlock. The Fever Man: a Biography of Dr. John Gorrie, Medallion Press: 1982.
  • Elli Morris, "Cooling the South: The Block Ice Era, 1875-1975", Wackophoto, 2008. [3] Archived 2019-06-08 at the Wayback Machine
  • Linda Hansen Caldwell, He Made Ice and Changed the World: The Story of Florida’s John Gorrie, Atlantic Publishing Group, Inc., 2020. https://www.hemadeice.com/ Archived 2021-01-17 at the Wayback Machine
  • Minna Scherlinder Morse, Chilly Reception "Dr. John Gorrie found the competition all fired up when he tried to market his ice-making machine" smithsonianmag.com, Smithsonian magazine, July 2002

External links[edit]