Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola Florida was a pioneer in the development of mechanical refrigeration in the 1840s. He saw cool air, whether from ice or from the lowering of the temperature in a room, as a medical means of combating such diseases as yellow fever and malaria. However, as a “Smithsonian” article about him suggests, he received a chilly reception, lost backers, and was never able to pursue the equipment’s development based on his early patent.
I first saw the John Gorrie museum, a Florida State Park, in Apalachicola when it opened in 1958. It is one of the treasures of visiting the “other Florida” or “the forgotten coast” in the panhandle by following U.S. Highway 98. Now, we take the creation of ice for granted and–except for days when we’re waiting for the repairman–we rely our window air conditioners and central HVAC systems.
However, the creation of ice by man was thought by some during Gorrie’s time as an affront to nature as “Smithsonian” noted in its July 2002 article: “Gorrie, who used air as the working gas in his machine, took his idea north to the Cincinnati Iron Works, which created a model for public demonstration. But the notion that humans could create ice bordered on blasphemy. In the New York Globe, one writer complained of a ‘crank’ down in Florida ‘that thinks he can make ice by his machine as good as God Almighty.'”
An opposing view appears on the state park’s website: “Not long after the death of Dr. Gorrie in 1855, famed botanist and physician Alvan Wentworth Chapman commented to celebrated botanist Asa Gray, ‘Gray, there is the grave of a man we recognize as superior to all of us.’ The technology needed to discover the cure for yellow fever still does not exist. Gorrie’s valiant attempt inadvertently created a machine and theory that changed the world forever. The John Gorrie Museum State Park reveals this remarkable and compassionate man and shows the amazing machine he created.”
While the original Gorrie ice making machine is in the Smithsonian Institution, you can see a replica of it while visiting the Gorrie Museum on 6th Street in Apalachicola, one block off U.S. Highway 98.
For more information on Dr. Gorrie, see: Explore Southern History
Malcolm R. Campbell grew up in the Florida Panhandle and has written fiction such as “Conjure Woman’s Cat” set in the areas he explored many years ago.