To celebrate Australia Day this week, we’re looking at some of the best inventions to ever come out of our sunburnt country. Today, we pay homage to James Harrison, whose technological advances in mechanical refrigeration meant our ancestors could get cold beer.
While people had been using iceboxes to keep stuff cold for thousands of years before James Harrison was even conceived, the Scottish-born Australian was the first to invent and patent a mechanical system to create ice for refrigeration. In 1854, Harrison created a commercial ice-making machine in Geelong, which he then expanded to create a vapour-compression refrigeration system, which he was awarded a patent for in 1855.
What made this refrigeration system unique was the use of a compressor to force vapourised ether into a condenser for cooling, where it turned back into liquid. This liquid then made its way through the the refrigeration coils and turned back into gas, which cooled down the insides of the system. According to Wikipedia, the machine used a 5 metre flywheel and could produce 3000kg of ice a day.
Harrison continued his innovations in refrigeration, jumping between it and his career as a journalist and editor at The Age. He was one of the pioneers allowing for meat to be shipped between Britain and Australia, although is first experiment was an unmitigated failure thanks to a lack of ice to keep the meat cold enough.
Harrison’s method of refrigeration is still used by fridges today, although the process has been refined significantly and ether is no longer the gas of choice. But what makes his invention especially brilliant and signifies Aussie ingenuity is that the first company to use his system was a Bendigo-based brewery, Glasgow & Co. That’s right – an Aussie invented the fridge and it’s first real use was making beer. You have to love this country…