Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Legacy of Dr. John Gorrie remembered in Apalachicola

Statue of Gorrie in U.S. Capitol
The hottest months of summer are a great time to remember the legacy of one of the most ingenius Floridians of them all: Dr. John Gorrie, inventor of the ice machine.

A native of South Carolina, Dr. Gorrie moved to Florida in the early 1830s, settling first at what is now Sneads in Jackson County and then moving on down to Apalachicola in 1833. The city was then one of the boomtowns of the Gulf Coast, as the development of steamboat travel brought cotton bales and other products pouring down the Apalachicola River to Apalachicola, where it was offloaded onto ocean-going schooners and ships for export to ports far and wide.

It was a time when a young man could move to a new city and become one of the leaders of society in short order. That is exactly what Dr. John Gorrie accomplished in Apalachicola. He served as a city councilman, treasurer, postmaster and eventually mayor of the thriving port.

Replica of the Ice Machine
Outbreaks of yellow fever and malaria, however, swept across the Gulf Coast during the 1830s and 1840s, killing untold numbers of people. Trained as a physician, Gorrie tried to do what he could to fight the sickness. Like many of his day, he believed that the fevers were caused by bad air that rose up from the marshes and swamps during the warm months. Unlike others, however, he noted that those sick with fever improved dramatically when there were sudden drops of the temperature.

Gorrie Grave & Museum
It was an observation that sparked genius and Dr. John Gorrie began working on a way to cool the rooms in which his patients suffered. By blowing air over ice, he created a primitive form of air conditioning. Obtaining ice in Apalachicola in the summer was difficult and expensive, so to solve the problem, Gorrie invented a machine that made ice!

So revolutionary was his invention that Southern investors did not believe it could possibly work, even after he demonstrated the machine in Apalachicola. Northern speculators, in turn, tried to kill off Gorrie's invention because it threatened their monopoly on the ice trade. Despite his groundbreaking invention, Dr. Gorrie died a disappointed man. In the end, his process was even stolen by another inventor who eventually adapted it into the refrigeration systems we use today.

Gorrie is now memorialized in statue form in the U.S. Capitol and his work is featured at the John Gorrie Museum State Park in Apalachicola.

To learn more, please visit

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