The Chilling History of Ice Machines and How Far We've Come Along

Ever wondered about the chilling history of ice machines? Believe it or not, the cold-hard facts are fascinating! Take a moment to brush up on your history.


At Memphis Ice Co., we don’t just sell ice machines…we are ice machine aficionados (we like that word better than “geeks” although the latter could also be considered true). We think ice making is pretty darn fascinating—from its beginnings in the 1700s to where it is today.

These days, our warehouse is full of commercial ice machines, but the process of getting them here wasn’t quite as simple as someone “inventing a commercial ice machine.” Rather, many people were involved in the discoveries leading up to modern-day ice making and there was plenty of drama along the way. Detailed by Wikipedia’s ice maker page, there was fierce opposition, a smear campaign, poisonous gases and bankruptcy!

The history of ice making

With the help of Wikipedia, we’ve put together this timeline for you:

  • 1748 – William Cullen at the University of Glasgow demonstrates artificial refrigeration, but never used his discovery for any practical purposes.
  • 1805 – American inventor, Oliver Evans, designs the first refrigeration machine.
  • 1834 – Jacob Perkins builds first practical refrigerating machine (and is now considered the father of the refrigerator).
  • 1844 – American physician, John Gorrie, builds a refrigerator based on Evans’ design to make ice to cool the air for his yellow fever patients. Unfortunately, his plans of manufacturing and selling his invention were met with fierce opposition by Frederic Tudor, the Boston “Ice King” who, afraid that Gorrie’s invention would ruin his business, began a smear campaign against the inventor.
  • 1851 – John Gorrie was awarded U.S. Patent 8080 for an ice machine. His original ice maker plans and the prototype machine are held today at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
  • 1853 – Alexander Twining was awarded U.S. Patent 10221 for an ice maker. Twining’s experiments led to the development of the first commercial refrigeration system, built in 1856. He also established the first artificial method of producing ice.
  • 1867 – Andrew Muhl built an ice-making machine in San Antonio, Texas, to help service the expanding beef industry.
  • 1873 – The patent for this machine was contracted by the Columbus Iron Works, which produced the world’s first commercial ice makers.
  • 1876 – German engineer Carl von Linde patented the process of liquefying gas that would later become an important part of basic refrigeration technology.
  • 1902 – The Teague family of Montgomery purchased control of Columbus Iron Works. Their last advertisement in Ice and Refrigeration appeared in March 1904.
  • 1929 – Professor Jurgen Hans is credited with the invention of the first ice machine to produce edible ice, but by 1949 the business switched its central product from ice to central air conditioning.

From toxic gases to Freon (also from Wikipedia):

The ice machines from the late 1800s to the 1930s used toxic gases such as ammonia (NH3), methyl chloride (CH3Cl), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) as refrigerants. During the 1920s, several fatal accidents were registered. They were caused by the refrigerators leaking methyl chloride. In the quest of replacing dangerous refrigerants – especially methyl chloride – collaborative research ensued in American corporations. The result of this research was the discovery of Freon. In 1930, General Motors and DuPont formed Kinetic Chemicals to produce Freon, which would later become the standard for almost all consumer and industrial refrigerators. The Freon produced back then was chlorofluorocarbon, a moderately toxic gas causing ozone depletion.

How modern-day commercial ice makers are made

The TV show, How It’s Made, visited Ice-O-Matic’s factory headquarters, located in Denver, CO. See the modern process that makes evaporator grids, liquid refrigerant, serpentine tubing, compressors and more all work together to make ice.

Want a wholesale distributor of ice machines who has a history of providing excellent service? At Memphis Ice Machine Co., we have been proudly serving the Memphis area since 1977. If you need us, we’re here.


Recent Posts