A brief history of the freezer

In the 19th century, industrialists set themselves the challenge of emulating freezing conditions for the year-round warehousing and transport of food on ships and trains. They used all kinds of methods: natural ice, chemicals, air-cooling with mechanical pumps. It was only with the aid of electricity in the early 20th century that freezers became more effective and efficient, and thus more widespread among commercial enterprises.

In around 1912, the American Clarence Birdseye (1886–1956) noticed how the Inuit (Eskimo) people in Labrador, Canada, used a method of freezing fish in the cold air, and he developed his patented method of fast-freezing all kinds of food during the 1920s. His innovation was a breakthrough because only tiny crystals of ice formed, so little damage was done to the cell structure (and hence texture) of the food.

Birdseye sold his business to the Postum Company, which shortly thereafter became General Foods. The socialite heiress and founder of General Foods, Marjorie Merriweather Post, was married to the US ambassador to Moscow; she installed a commercial freezer in the embassy in the late 1930s, as a means of beating the limitations of Russian food and securing good produce all year round. It was a success, and back in the USA, she developed the idea of frozen food for the domestic market under the Birds Eye brand. Freezers caught on in the USA in the 1940s, initially as luxury novelties, but soon as an almost essential tool for running an efficient and economic household.

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