Refrigeration History

For centuries, people have known that the evaporation of water produces a cooling effect. At first, they did not attempt to recognize and understand the phenomenon, but they knew that any portion of the body that became wet felt cold as it dried in the air. At least as early as the second century evaporation was used in Egypt to chill jars of water, and it was employed in ancient India to make ice (Neuberger, 1930).

The first attempts to produce refrigeration mechanically depended on the cooling effects of the evaporation of water. In 1755 William Cullen, a Scottish physician, obtained sufficiently low temperatures for ice making. He accomplished this by reducing the pressure on water in a closed container with an air pump. At a very low pressure the liquid evaporated or boiled at a low temperature. The heat required for a portion of water to change phase from liquid to vapor was taken from the rest of the water, and at least part of the water remaining turned to ice. Since Cullen, many engineers and scientists have created a number of inventions for clarifying the main principles of mechanical refrigeration (Goosman, 1924). In 1834, Jacob Perkins, an American residing in England, constructed and patented a vapor-compression machine with a compressor, a condenser, an evaporator, and a cock between the condenser and the evaporator (Critchell and Raymond, 1912). He made it by evaporating under reduced pressure a volatile fluid obtained by the destructive distillation of India rubber. It was used to produce a small quantity of ice, but not commercially. Growing demand over the 30 years after 1850 brought great inventive accomplishments and progress. New substances, e.g ammonia and carbon dioxide, which were more suitable than water and ether, were made available by Faraday, Thilorier, and others, and they demonstrated that these substances could be liquefied. The theoretical background required for mechanical refrigeration was provided by Rumford and Davy, who had explained the nature of heat, and by Kelvin, Joule, and Rankine, who were continuing the work begun by Sadi Carnot in formulating the science of thermodynamics (Travers, 1946). Refrigerating machines appeared between 1850 and 1880, and these could be classified according to substance (refrigerant). Machines using air as a refrigerant were called compressed-air or cold-air machines and played a significant role in refrigeration history. Dr. John Gorrie, an American, developed a real commercial cold-air machine and patented it in England in 1950 and in America in 1951 (DOI, 1952).

Refrigerating machines using cold air as a refrigerant were divided into two types, closed cycle and open cycle. In the closed cycle, air confined to the machine at a pressure higher than the atmospheric pressure was utilized repeatedly during the operation. In the open cycle, air was drawn into the machine at atmospheric pressure and when cooled was discharged directly into the space to be refrigerated. In Europe. Dr. Alexander C. Kirk commercially developed a closed cycle refrigerating machine in 1862, and Franz Windhausen invented a closed cycle machine and patented it in America in 1870. The open cycle refrigerating machines theoretically outlined by Kelvin and Rankine in the early 1850s were invented by a Frenchman, Paul Giffard, in 1873 and by Joseph J. Coleman and James Bell in Britain in 1877 (Roelker, 1906).

In 1860, a French engineer, Ferdinand P. Edniond Carre, invented an intermittent crude ammonia absorption apparatus based on the chemical affinity of ammonia for water, which produced ice on a limited scale. Despite its limitations, it represented significant progress. His apparatus had a hand pump and could freeze a small amount of water in about 5 minutes (Goosman, 1924). It was widely used in Paris for a while, but it suffered from a serious disadvantage in that the sulfuric acid quickly became diluted with water and lost its affinity. The real inventor of a small, hand-operated absorption machine was H.A. Fleuss, who designed an effective pump for this machine. A comparatively large-scale ice making absorption unit was constructed in 1878 by F. Windhausen. It operated continuously by drawing water from sulfuric acid with additional heat to increase the affinity (Goosman, 1924).

One of the earliest of the vapor-compression machines was invented and patented by an American professor, Alexander C. Twining, in 1853. He established an ice production plant using this system in Cleveland, Ohio and could produce close to a ton per day. After that, a number of other inventors experimented with vapor-compression machines which used ether or its compounds (Woolrich, 1947). In France F.P.E. Carre developed and installed an
ether-compression machine, and Charles Tellier (who was a versatile pioneer of mechanical refrigeration) constructed a plant using methyl ether as a refrigerant. In Germany Carl Linde, financed by brewers, established a methly ether unit in 1874. Just before this Linde had paved the way for great improvements in refrigerating machinery by demonstrating how its thermodynamic efficiency could be calculated and increased (Goosman, 1924). Inventors
of compression machines also experimented with ammonia, which became the most popular refrigerant and was used widely for many years. In the 1860s Tellier developed an ammonia-compression machine. In 1872 David Boyle made satisfactory equipment for ice making and patented it in 1872 in America. Nevertheless, the most important figure in the development of ammonia-compression machines was Linde, who obtained a patent in 1876 for one which was installed in Trieste brewery the following year. Later, Linde’s model became very popular and was considered excellent in its mechanical details (Awberry, 1942). The use of ammonia in the compression refrigerating machines was a significant step forward. In addition to its thermodynamic advantage, the pressures it required were easy to produce, and machines which used it could be small in size. In the late 1860s, P.H. Van der Weyde of Philadelphia got a patent for a compression unit which featured a refrigerant composed of petroleum products (Goosman, 1924). In 1875 R.P. Pictet at the University of Geneva introduced a compression machine that used sulfuric acid. In 1866 T.S.C. Lowe, an American, developed refrigerating equipment that used carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide compression machines became important, because of the gas’s harmlesness, in installations where safety was the primary concern, although they were not used extensively until the 1890s (Awberry, 1942). Between 1880 and 1890 ammonia-compression installations became more common. By 1890 mechanical refrigeration had proved to be both practical and economical for the food refrigeration industry. Europeans provided most of the theoretical background for the development of mechanical refrigeration, but Americans participated vigorously in the widespread inventive activity between 1850 and 1880.

Steady technical progress in the field of mechanical refrigeration marked the years after 1890. Revolutionary changes were not the rule, but many improvements were made, in several countries, in the design and construction of refrigerating units, as well as in their basic components, compressors, condensers, and evaporators.

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