ExploreSouthernHistory.com - John Gorrie Museum State Park, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - John Gorrie Museum State Park, Florida
John Gorrie Museum State Park
The inventor of the first ice-making and refrigeration
machine is honored at a complex of sites in
Apalachicola, Florida.
John Gorrie Museum
A 3/4 scale replica of Gorrie's
invention is the centerpiece of
the museum that honors his
memory in Apalachicola.
Museum, Grave & Marker
Dr. John Gorrie's grave can
be found directly across 6th
Street from the museum in
Apalachicola, Florida.
John Gorrie Museum State Park - Apalachicola, Florida
Museum, Monument and Grave
Gorrie Monument
The memorial honoring Dr.
Gorrie's unheralded invention
was erected in 1899 by the
Southern Ice Exchange and
can be seen adjacent to the
museum and gravee on 6th
Street in Apalachicola.
Copyright 2010 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
The legacy of one of the most ingenious
figures in Florida history can be explored at
the John Gorrie Museum State Park in

A 30-year-old physician from South Carolina,
Dr. John Gorrie arrived in Apalachicola in
1833. The booming city was not yet twenty
years old, but already was the third busiest
port on the Gulf Coast. King Cotton was in its
ascendancy and Apalachicola was the major
port for plantations and farms in the vast
drainage area of the Apalachicola, Flint and
Chattahoochee Rivers in Florida, Georgia
and Alabama.

It was a time when an individual could arrive
in a new city and quickly rise to prominence.
Gorrie served as mayor, postmaster, city
treasurer and councilman in Apalachicola,
while also serving as director for the local
branch of a Pensacola bank and as one of
the founder's of
Trinity Episcopal Church.

His primary career, however, was as a doctor
and it was in this capacity that he joined with
other local physicians in battling the
outbreaks of yellow fever and malaria that
often swept along the Florida coast. It is
difficult today to imagine just how deadly
these outbreaks were, but virtually every
Southern city was devastated by them at one
point or another. Not only did Apalachicola
suffer enormously, but its neighboring city of
St. Joseph (on the site of today's
Port St. Joe)
was all but destroyed by fever.

Doctors of the time believed that malaria and
yellow fever were caused by "bad air." It was
a reasonable if incorrect assumption, as
fevers seemed most destructive in cities and
towns that bordered marshes and swamps.
It would take decades for a researcher to
determine that the fevers were carried by the
mosquitoes that bred in such places, not by
the air itself.

While he was no more successful in learning
the cause of deadly fevers than other doctors
of his time, John Gorrie did make a dramatic
leap forward in the treatment of patients
under his care. He noticed that fever patients
seemed to suffer worse in times of hot
weather, but would often recovery quickly if
the weather cooled.

This observation led him to experiment with
ways of cooling the rooms in which his fever
patients suffered. He initially tried, with some
success, to relieve the misery of patients by
suspending containers of ice from the
ceilings of their rooms. While the method did
show promise, it was not practical. Ice was a
scarce and expensive commodity on the Gulf
Coast, especially in the summer.
Dr. Gorrie had an aptitude for chemistry and
mechanical engineering and began to think
about other possibilities. His ideas led to
experimentation and he subsequently built a
working refrigeration machine that not only
cooled rooms, but also manufactured ice as
a side benefit.

The stunning development had its believers
and disbelievers, but Gorrie silenced many of
the latter by hosting a banquet on a hot,
humid, day and treating his guests to ice in
large quantities. In 1851 he was granted the
first U.S. Patent for mechanical refrigeration.

Despite his remarkable achievement, Gorrie
was unable to turn his machine into a
commercial success. Northern investors had
no interest in seeing their ice monopoly
destroyed and Southern investors had
difficulty believing that he really could do what
he promised. He died in 1855, before he
could see other inventors take his research
and develop the refrigeration and air
conditioning systems still in use today.

The John Gorrie Museum State Park is one
block east of U.S. 98 on 6th Street and is
open Thursday through Monday 9 - 5 (closed
Tuesdays and Wednesdays). Admission is
$2 per person (children 5 and under free).

Dr. Gorrie's grave and a monument erected
in his honor by the Southern Ice Exchange in
1899 can be seen across from the museum.