Dr. John Gorrie, an early pioneer in the manufacturing of artificial ice, was granted U.S. Patent No. 8080 for mechanical refrigeration in 1851.
Reportedly born on Oct. 3, 1803, John Gorrie was raised in Columbia, South Carolina, where he apprenticed as an apothecary during an 1824 yellow fever outbreak in that city. There he had witnessed the clinical manifestation of the fever and thus entered the study of professional medicine.
From 1825 to 1827, he attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Western District of New York, in Fairfield, New York.
Dr. Gorrie initially practiced in Abbeville, South Carolina, in 1828 and became a resident of the burgeoning cotton port of Apalachicola in 1833. It was here that he would serve as the community's first physician and supplement his income by becoming the postmaster, bank director, a partner in the Mansion House Hotel, and mayor by 1837. It was in this capacity that he would become an advocate for the draining of area swamps in his campaign to reduce noxious marsh gases that he believed were the cause of yellow fever.
Dr. Gorrie’s basic principle is the one most often used in refrigeration today; namely, cooling caused by the rapid expansion of gases. Using two double acting force pumps he first condensed and then rarified air. His machine reduced the temperature of compressed air by interjecting a small amount of water into it.
The compressed air was submerged in coils surrounded by a circulating bath of cooling water. He then allowed the interjected water to condense out in a holding tank, and released or rarified, the compressed air into a tank of lower pressure containing brine. This lowered the temperature of the brine to 26 degrees or below, and immersing drip-fed, brick-size, oil coated metal containers of non-saline water or rain water, into the brine, manufactured ice bricks.
Dr. Gorrie submitted his patent petition on Feb. 27, 1848, and by April of 1848, he had one of his ice machines built in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the Cincinnati Iron Works. On Aug. 22, 1850, he received London Patent No. 13,124, and on May 6, 1851, U.S. Patent No. 8080.
Although the mechanism produced ice in quantities, leakage and irregular performance sometime impaired its operation. A ¾-scale replica of Dr. Gorrie’s in machine is on display at the museum.
Yellow Fever was a mysterious, vicious disease that claimed up to 70% of its victims. Symptoms began with shivering, high fever, insatiable thirst, savage headaches, and severe back and leg pains. In a day or so, the restless patient became jaundiced, turning yellow.
In the terminal stages, patients spit up blood, blood temperatures dropped, pulse faded, and the comatose patient, who was cold to the touch, would typically die within eight to 10 hours. Victims were buried as quickly as possible. Areas were quarantined and yellow flags flown. Gauze was hung over beds to filter air, handkerchiefs were soaked in vinegar and garlic was worn in shoes. Bed linens and compresses were soaked in camphor, and sulfur was burned in outdoor smudge pots. Gunpowder was burned and cannons were fired.
When it was over, cleaning and fumigation began. Gorrie's valiant attempt to cure yellow fever inadvertently created a machine and theory that changed the world forever. The John Gorrie Museum State Park reveals this remarkable and compassionate man and shows the amazing machine he created.
Dr. Gorrie Gravesite
Dr. Gorrie’s gravesite is located on the grounds of the park, directly across from the museum. The tomb consists of a polished stone slab and headstone that were dedicated in 1957, along with the museum, and is Dr. Gorrie’s third and final resting place.
Historic Marker and Monument
On the grounds of the John Gorrie Museum State Park are a Florida Heritage Landmark marker and monument. The historic marker is located near Dr. Gorrie’s gravesite and explains his life and accomplishments.
The white bronze monument located across the street near the Apalachicola Trinity Episcopal Church was erected by the Southern Ice Exchange in 1899.
Dedicated in 1957, the museum has shown how one person can change the world. This was one of the two first museum buildings erected by the Florida Park Service; the other is the Constitution Convention Museum in nearby Port St. Joe.