Clarence Birdseye was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 9, 1886. In 1925, he unveiled his invention, the “Quick Freeze Machine.” Four years later, he sold his company, the General Seafood Corporation, to General Foods, while staying on as a consultant. By the time he died on October 7, 1956, in New York City, he held roughly 300 patents and frozen food had become a billion-dollar industry.
Inventor and businessman Clarence Birdseye was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 9, 1886. From a young age, he was interested in botany and zoology. Birdseye enrolled at Amherst College with the goal of becoming a biologist. Unable to afford his tuition, circa 1910, Birdseye dropped out of school and took a job as a government field naturalist for the U.S. Biological Survey—while supplementing his income with fur trading.
In 1912, Birdseye set out on a five-year fur-trading expedition on the Canadian peninsula of Labrador. During his time in the Arctic, Birdseye observed that the indigenous Inuit people froze food in the winter, due to the challenges of procuring fresh food. He was fascinated by their quick freezing process, which entailed using the elements—ice, wind and cold temperatures—to freeze freshly caught fish instantly. Birdseye noticed that when the fish was frozen quickly, it retained its freshness until it was thawed. Only small ice crystals formed on the fish, and its cell walls remained intact. With his scientific mind, Birdseye wondered how the quick freezing process might work on fresh vegetables and other foods.
When Birdseye returned to the United States, he invented the “Quick Freeze Machine,” based on the principles he had learned from the Inuits. The machine worked on fish, fruit and vegetables. In 1924, Birdseye started a frozen-food company, the General Seafood Corporation, with the help of wealthy investors.
In 1929, the Postum Company bought the General Seafood Corporation and the new General Foods Corporation was born. General Foods kept the Birdseye trademark, but inserted a space between the two syllables to create the brand “Birds Eye.” Hired as a consultant at General Foods, Birdseye served as president of Birds Eye Frosted Foods from 1930 to 1934, and Birdseye Electric Company from 1935 to 1938. During the early 1930s, General Foods released Birdseye’s frozen vegetables, fruit, meat and fish onto the U.S. grocery market, revolutionizing the way Americans cooked and ate.
Over the course of his lifetime, Birdseye patented more than 300 inventions, including grocery-store freezer display cases that he could charge proprietors to lease. In the late 1930s, he mastered a process for dehydrating food, which he patented in 1946. In the 1940s, he enabled Birds Eye to distribute its products all over the country via refrigerated boxcars.
By the time Clarence Birdseye died on October 7, 1956, in New York, frozen food had become a billion-dollar industry.
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