Just prior to the turn of the century, in 1799, the very first form of commercial refrigeration came about. It was ice and it was shipped commercially for the first time from Canal Street in New York City to Charleston in South Carolina. Sad to say however, by the time it reached Charleston there wasn't much ice left. So in the early part of the 1800s, Nathaniel Wyeth and Frederick Tudor, both from New England saw there was big business for ice and Tudor became known as the “Ice King”. What they did was focus on shipping ice to tropical type climates and they experimented with different kinds of insulating materials and then built ice houses that would decrease the ice melting from 66 percent to less than 8 percent. Then Wyeth came up with a method to quickly and for very little cost cut blocks of ice that completely changed the ice industry from that day on.
The very first type of refrigeration system that was ever thought of was in 1805 by an inventor in America by the name of Oliver Evans. He designed the very first machine that would keep things cold. This machine used vapor and not liquid. He never constructed his machine however but one similar to it was built by a doctor named John Gorrie.
In 1842, John Gorrie, wanted to cool sickrooms in a hospital in Florida and built a machine that would cool the air for the yellow fever patients. The principle was basic and it compressed a gas that would be cooled sending it through some radiating coils, then it would expand and lower the temperature. This basic design is what is still used in refrigerators today. In 1851 he was given the very first US patent for his refrigeration system.
Actual commercial refrigeration is thought to have been started by an American businessman by the name of Alexander C. Twinning in the year 1856. After that the Australian named James Harrison, who took a look at both the Gorrie and Twinning systems and then introduced to the world the vapor compression refrigeration system. He presented this new system to both the meat packing and brewing industries.
A more complex refrigeration systems was later designed in 1859 by a Frenchman by the name of Ferdinand Carre. Different than the earlier compression to compression machines that used air for the coolant, his equipment used ammonia that expanded rapidly. His refrigerators were used widely and the vapor compression refrigeration system became the most popular method of cooling and still is to this very day. But, because of the cost and size along with the toxicity of the ammonia it was not allowed to be used in homes. Most homes just used iceboxes that used blocks of ice to keep things cold.
In the 1840s, they started using refrigerated cars to deliver butter and milk. By the time 1860 rolled around, refrigerated transportation was limited to seafood and dairy. This refrigerated cars had the patented given to J.B. Sutherland who lived in Detroit, Michigan in 1867. His cars were insulated with ice bunkers on each end of them and the air came in on the top of the car and then passed through the two bunkers and then gravity circulated the air through the cars. The very first car with refrigeration was able to carry fresh fruit for deliver in 1867 was created by Parker Earle of the state of Illinois and he shipped strawberries on the Illinois Central Railroad. The individual chests on the cars held 100 pounds of ice and then 200 quarts of strawberries. It was not until the year 1949 that a true refrigeration system made its way into the trucking and railroad industry.
It was actually the Brewing industry that became the major industry that started using mechanical refrigeration systems all the time. They began with the absorption machine that was used by the S. Liebmann's Sons Brewing Company in Brooklyn in 1870. By 1891 nearly every brewery had some sort of refrigeration system.
Even though ice in the 1800s was the major way to keep things cold, as a reliable refrigeration system, it soon became a public health issue. By the 1890s the natural ice people were used to using became a lot harder to come by because of pollution and the problem of dumping sewage. So, it was the new refrigeration technology that helped the situation and it was because of this, mechanical refrigeration systems became the choice for commercial refrigeration.