Born in 1886, Clarence Birdseye lived in Brooklyn with his family and was one of 19 children that his parents had. He had to drop out of college because of financial problems and eventually moved to the West Coast to pursue opportunities with the US Agriculture Department. His first job after moving from Brooklyn was as a taxidermist and he also assisted with thinning coyote herds. Much of the work for which he is known, however, came from time he spent in Labrador.
That’s because Clarence Birdseye is credited with the invention of flash freezing.
How Did Flash Freezing Come About?
During his time in Labrador, Birdseye was taught by the local Inuit tribe how to fish in the extreme cold. He learned that fish could be caught underneath a thick layer of ice, but also noticed that the fish would freeze almost instantly in the cold winter air. Yet, once the fish thawed out and was cooked, it tasted fresh. He quickly realized this was better fish than anything that was being produced from a frozen state in the US.
Based on this, his most famous invention was created: the double belted freezer. Instead of slow freezing from higher temperatures that ruins food, this new freezer marked the start of the modern food freezing industry because it would create only small ice crystal and prevent damage to cell membranes. This invention became quickly known as the preferred way to freeze foods and interest quickly developed in his technology. It was not long before Birdseye was able to sell his company for a large profit.
What Else Did Clarence Birdseye Invent?
After selling his company off, Birdseye continued to work within the company that bore his name to perfect the frozen foods market. In 1930, just a year after he had sold his company, he produced a line of quick-frozen foods that could be purchased at grocers. The first line for frozen products included 26 different kinds of food, including fish fillets and oysters. You can still see the Birdseye name on products today.
Birdseye is also credited with the discovery of how Rocky Mountain Fever is transmitted. During is agriculture work while on the West Coast, he worked to collected several tick samples from mammals that were captured. In two years, 1910-1911, he was able to isolate the ticks as the cause of the disease spreading.
By the end of his life, Birdseye had patented more than 300 inventions, many of them food related. This includes display cases for grocery store freezers, a process of safely dehydrating foods, and refrigerated boxcars that allowed the company to ship their products from coast to coast.
In the end, Clarence Birdseye was able to see the industry that he is considered the father of to grow into a billion dollar industry. For a college drop-out who was broke and had to stuff animals to support himself, that’s not a bad legacy to leave.
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