A Refrigeration Pioneer by R. Maclagan Gorrie

The town of Apalachicola in Florida maintains a small museum called the John Gorrie Memorial which houses the equipment on which the claim is established to name him the “Father of Air Conditioning” and a pioneer in the ice industry.

Patent No.8080 granted to him on 6th May 1851 is considered to be the first U.S. patent on a workable apparatus for the mechanical production of ice. There is a statue of him in the statuary hall of the US Capitol which houses two distinguished citizens from each state.

Dr John Gorrie (1803 to1855) was born in Charleston, South Carolina, the son of a sea captain Ian Gorrie of the Macdonald sect of this name from Logiealmond, Perthshire, and a Spanish lady. Dr John graduated in 1827 from the College of Physicians, Fairfield, New York, though apparently most of his studies were in Columbia, South Carolina.

In 1833 he settled in Apalachicola where, in addition to practising medicine, he identified himself with the administration, serving as postmaster and treasurer of the city council, and dealing with the drainage of the local swamps to get rid of malaria; in his spare time he was always working on his hobby of getting cold air for his feverish patients, but also was a director of two local banks, vestryman in the episcopal church, and a charter member of the local masonic lodge, and was part owner of a well known hotel.

He married Caroline Frances Beman, a widow, and had two children, a son John who died from the effects of serving in the Confederate army in the war between north and south; and a daughter Mary who was twice married, and whose descendants are still extant – Marie Daughtie Butler in Mariana, Florida, and Mary Louise Stewart in Pensacola, Florida, a history teacher, who as a small child unveiled the Washington statue. The museum is in the charge of Miss Mabel Osborne, who has collected much data about the Gorrie connections in the USA, most of which seem to have their origin in Logiealmond. (The Gorries came there from Uist about 1600. but that is another and more obscure story).

John Gorrie’s biographer, George A. Whiteside, writing in Ice and Refrigeration in 1897, states that Gorrie had virtually abandoned his medical practice by 1844, by which time be had exhausted all his money. He went to New Orleans to try and get capital to build a larger machine than the one now shown in the museum. But like many other inventors he failed to get public support or attain any commercial success, and finished as a recluse. But from the quotations from Gorrie’s writings published in the Scientific Monthly, it is obvious that he was a man of outstanding scientific and literary stature, putting forward ideas 120 years ago which place him in the same class as the best modern investigative physician.