Florida physician John Gorrie invented a machine in the 1840s that could create ice, which he used to cool down his office to comfort fever patients. It was simultaneously the invention of refrigeration and air conditioning, two of the most important underrated inventions in history.
He patented it in 1851… and immediately crashed and burned. He couldn’t get funding because he went head-to-head with the powerful ice lobby, which smeared him and his company until they both died. It took slow progress and a whole other way of refrigerating for the idea to recover over the next 70 years.
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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.”
Having found both funding—from a Boston investor who remains unknown—and a manufacturing company willing to produce the contraption, Gorrie became the first person to create a commercially available refrigeration machine. But he quickly fell on hard times.
In 1851, the year Gorrie received a U.S. patent on his ice machine, his chief financial backer died. With his invention being ridiculed regularly in the press, his other investors fell by the wayside. Gorrie suspected that Frederic Tudor had spearheaded a smear campaign against him and his invention.
He looked for financial support for his invention, but had trouble.
[…] “The ice business was controlled by people in places like New England, where in the winter they would chop big slabs of ice out of the water,” Ackermann says. “That’s what people would use in iceboxes to keep their stuff cold. So the ideas of some guy from Florida trying to make things cooler was not necessarily something that the bigwigs, the people who actually had the power, would want to have happen.”
Northern ice makers — who made lots of money shipping ice to the South during the summer — lobbied against Gorrie, and Northern newspapers made fun of his invention.
The patent went nowhere and he died a poor man at the age of 52.