Upon establishing his medical practice in this west Florida community, Dr. Gorrie observed became concerned for the health and well-being of his fellow citizens. There was a recurrent scourge of malaria and yellow fever that threatened the very existence of the community. Gorrie embarked on a scientific quest to understand, cure and prevent these dreaded diseases.
It was believed that yellow fever and malaria were caused by “bad air,” and prevailed in the hot, low-lying tropical and sub-tropical areas. It was thought that the high humidity and rapid decomposition of vegetation caused poisonous marsh gases which in turn caused deadly diseases. He encouraged the draining of wet areas around Apalachicola as well as insisting that food markets be held to a higher standard of cleanliness.
Gorrie thought that a cooler room would help heal patients that had been diagnosed with the fever. He first used a basin filled with ice which hung from the ceiling to send cool air over patients. However, because ice had to be imported at the time, he found this method quite inconvenient. This eventually led him to the idea of creating a machine which could produce artificial ice.
While Gorrie's invention did not necessarily heal any patients, it did pave the way for modern air-conditioning and refrigeration units. It would not be until 1901 in Havana, Cuba that Dr. Walther Reed and Dr. Carlos Finlay and Dr. William Gorgas, would demonstrate conclusively that the Aedes Aegypti mosquito was the carrier of the yellow fever virus. At about the same time, the English physician, Sir Ronald Ross in India, would correctly identify the Anopheles mosquito as the carrier of the malaria protozoa.