Commercial refrigeration got its start in the 1840’s. The very first freezers were only used to create ice by freezing water, but these initial systems didn’t work very well. Still, they did create interest in what would become a booming industry.
Texas was the first state to dip its toes into a large market for commercial refrigeration. A French immigrant living in Waco, Texas, one Andrew Muhl, created an ice machine in the 1860’s that was designed to cater to the growing beef industry in his area. It was patented in 1873, and it became one of the very first ice machines ever produced. The business of refrigeration quickly spread to breweries who needed the machines to keep their products cold.
The Rise of the Refrigerated Rail Car
In the 1840’s, the first refrigerated ice cars were developed. They would take harvested ice and use it to keep beef cool. However, germ theory quickly proved that harvested ice could be susceptible to disease, particularly from drinking water that was tainted. That’s when commercial ice machines were first developed and introduced to the industry of transporting food.
The Food Industry Embraces Commercial Refrigeration
The commercial food industry required some way for food to be transported without it getting spoiled, so commercial refrigeration was the obvious solution. The late 19th century and early 20th century saw refrigerators being placed on trains, cars and Lorries. The ones being produced at this time were not very safe. They were also ungainly and very expensive. Many times they would leak gas or even explode. There was no way they could become household appliances until they were refined to be smaller and made much safer.
The dangerous gasses used in refrigeration were replaced with safer chemicals. So methyl, ammonia, chloride and more were on the way out and Freon was on the way in. The very stable gas was the element of choice until 1987, when it was discovered that it depleted the ozone.
Refrigeration units continued to be refined, becoming safer, more efficient and smaller over time. They quickly made their way into many people’s homes. The smaller size created a new class of refrigeration unit, called the refrigerator. It soon took the place of the icebox that many people had in their home.