Dr. John Gorrie of Florida is the man behind, arguably, humanity’s most impressive invention for daily use: the air conditioner.
Gorrie was a physician, scientist, inventor, and humanitarian living in South Carolina. His study of tropical diseases led him to move to Florida when he noticed that people in the north weren’t getting yellow fever. He decided to see if the climate had something to do with it, moving down to Apalachicola, then a large cotton market on the Gulf Coast.
He became convinced that cold was a healer. He noted that “Nature would terminate the fevers by changing the seasons.” Dr. Gorrie began urging draining the swamps, clearing weeds, and maintaining clean food markets in the city. He also recommended sleeping under mosquito netting to prevent the disease. He had been cooling rooms with ice in a basin suspended from the ceiling which allowed cool air to flow down across the sick patient. However, it was a clunky system that was incredibly limited by the fact that ice had to be brought by boat from the northern lakes; ice came packed in sawdust from the northern lakes between the United States and Canada. Furthermore, ice was incredibly expensive at nearly $1.50 a pound – that’s $44.81 a pound in 2020 (source)!
Thus, Dr. Gorrie began to experiment with making artificial ice. He worked to design a machine that creates ice using a compressor powered by horse, water, wind-driven sails, or steam. This earliest effort to create a practical method of manufacturing ice would guide future inventors in developing the cold-air process of refrigeration necessary for everything from the AC in your house to the AC in your car, and many things in-between. Dr. Gorrie successfully demonstrates the ice-making machine in 1848. However, he wasn’t granted the U.S. patent until May 6, 1851. His design, the foundation of future air conditing designs as well as modern refrigerators, was filled under Patent No. 8080.
During his residence in Apalachicola, Gorrie served as mayor, postmaster, city treasurer, council member, bank director, and founder of Trinity Church. To honor his impact on the town and the world, the city created the Gorrie Ice Museum in order to explore the doctor, his creation, and his life; be sure to check their website to keep up-to-date with their hours and events (John Gorrie Museum and State Park website). Additionally, Gorrie represents Florida with his statue placed in the National Statuary Hall in Washington D. C., and you can also view the original model of his ice-making machine and the scientific articles he wrote at the Smithsonian Institution.