John Gorrie and Mechanical Refrigeration

Perhaps no one is more responsible for the growth of southern Florida’s population than
Apalachicola’s Dr. John Gorrie.

Wealthy industrialists certainly played an important role, financing and building railroads, hotels and golf courses to entice hordes of tourists to venture south during the winter months. But what about the sweltering summer heat? Boosters pined for a solution that could perhaps convert winter tourists into permanent residents.

Portrait of Dr. John Gorrie

Portrait of Dr. John Gorrie

Enter Dr. John Gorrie. His contribution came, appropriately, at the beginning of summer, in May of 1851, when he patented an ice-making machine. Gorrie’s goals were medicinal, and his machine helped to lessen the suffering of yellow fever victims.

The invention of mechanical refrigeration also became the basis for air-conditioning in the 20th century. If not for Gorrie’s invention, Florida may have remained a winter destination instead of a year-round paradise.

Model of the first ice machine displayed at the John Gorrie Museum: Apalachicola, Florida (1955)

Model of the first ice machine displayed at the John Gorrie Museum: Apalachicola, Florida (1955)