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Clarence Birdseye
Clarence Birdseye.jpg
Born
Clarence Frank Birdseye II

(1886-12-09)December 9, 1886
Died October 7, 1956(1956-10-07) (aged 69)
Gramercy Park Hotel
Manhattan, New York City, US
Nationality American
Known for Frozen food
Parent(s) Clarence Frank Birdseye I
Ada Jane Underwood

Clarence Frank Birdseye II (December 9, 1886 – October 7, 1956) was an American inventor, entrepreneur, and naturalist, and is considered to be the founder of the modern frozen food industry.

Early life and education

Clarence Birdseye was the sixth of nine children of Clarence Frank Birdseye, a lawyer in an insurance firm, and Ada Jane Underwood. His first years were spent in Brooklyn, New York, where his family owned a townhouse in Cobble Hill. From childhood, Birdseye was obsessed with natural science and with Taxidermy, which he taught himself by correspondence.

After leaving college, Birdseye was once again hired by the United States Agriculture Department, this time for a project surveying animals in the American West. He also worked with entomologist Willard Van Orsdel King (1888-1970) in Montana, where, in 1910 and 1911, he captured several hundred small mammals from which King removed several thousand ticks for research, isolating them as the cause of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a notable breakthrough.

Birdseye's next field assignment, intermittently from 1912 to 1915, was in Labrador in the Dominion of Newfoundland (now part of Canada), where he became further interested in food preservation by freezing, especially fast freezing. He purchased land at Muddy Bay where he built a ranch for raising foxes. He was taught by the Inuit how to ice fish under very thick ice. In -40 °C weather, he discovered that the fish he caught froze almost instantly, and when thawed, tasted fresh. He recognized immediately that the frozen seafood sold in New York was of lower quality than the frozen fish of Labrador. He saw that this knowledge would be lucrative. His journals from this period, which meticulously record these observations, are held in the Archives and Special Collections at Amherst College.

Conventional freezing methods of the time were commonly done at higher temperatures, thus the freezing occurred much more slowly, giving ice crystals more time to grow. It is now known that fast freezing produces smaller ice crystals, which cause less damage to the tissue structure. When 'slow' frozen foods thaw, cellular fluids leak from the ice crystal-damaged tissue, giving the resulting food a mushy or dry consistency upon preparation. Birdseye solved this problem.

In 1922, Birdseye conducted fish-freezing experiments at the Clothel Refrigerating Company, and then established his own company, Birdseye Seafoods Inc., to freeze fish fillets with chilled air at -43 °C (-45 °F).

In 1924, his company went bankrupt for lack of consumer interest in the product. That same year he developed an entirely new process for commercially viable quick-freezing: packing fish in cartons, then freezing the contents between two refrigerated surfaces under pressure. Birdseye created General Seafood Corporation to promote this method.

Industrial development

US Patent 1773079 (Fig 1)
US Patent #1773079 issued to Clarence Birdseye for the production of quick-frozen fish.

In 1925, General Seafood Corporation moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts. There it employed Birdseye's newest invention, the double belt freezer, in which cold brine chilled a pair of stainless steel belts carrying packaged fish, freezing the fish quickly. His invention was issued US Patent #1,773,079, marking the beginning of today's frozen foods industry. Birdseye patented other machinery which cooled even more quickly. In 1927, he extended the process to quick-freezing meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables.

In 1929, Birdseye sold his company and patents for $22 million (approximately $240 million in 2017 dollars) to Goldman Sachs and the Postum Company, which eventually became General Foods Corporation, which founded the Birds Eye Frozen Food Company. Birdseye continued to work with the company, further developing frozen food technology.

In 1930, the company began sales experiments in 18 retail stores around Springfield, Massachusetts, to test consumer acceptance of quick-frozen foods. The initial product line featured 26 items, including 18 cuts of frozen meat, spinach and peas, a variety of fruits and berries, blue point oysters, and fish fillets. Consumers liked the new products, and today this is considered the birth of retail frozen foods.

The "Birds Eye" name remains a leading frozen-food brand. Birdseye was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005.

Death

Birdseye died on October 7, 1956, of a heart attack at the Gramercy Park Hotel. He was 69 years old. Birdseye was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea off Gloucester, Massachusetts.

In 2012 the first book-length biography of Birdseye, Mark Kurlansky's Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, was published by Doubleday.

Birdseye inventions related to food products

  • Method of preserving piscatorial products, 1924.
  • Brining machine, 1925.
  • Method in preparing foods and the product obtained thereby, 1926.
  • Refrigerating apparatus; 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1935.
  • Method of packaging fruit juices, 1930.
  • Bin for storage of fish, 1931.
  • Refrigerating apparatus and method of refrigerating food products, 1931.
  • Fish scaling device, 1933.
  • Consumer package of meat products, 1933.
  • Food product and method of preparing the same, 1934.
  • Freezing and packaging food products, 1934.
  • Method and apparatus for freezing food products, 1935.
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