HVAC Forum: Remembering John
John was a pioneer, a visionary, a man who was ahead of his time, a servant of mankind whose work benefited the world. You and I are benefiting from John's work this very minute. And yet, you probably never heard of John. You see, he died unappreciated, humiliated and mocked.
Unless you grew up in his adopted home town, it's unlikely you would have learned about John in school. If you studied his contributions, more than likely others were credited for them.
Yet, few have ever undertaken as monumental a venture as John, with as noble a purpose. Few have ever made as significant a breakthrough and received so little credit or so much ridicule. We should all remember John and assign to him the credit that's his due.
Here Is John's StoryJohn grew up in Columbia, S.C. As a youth, he worked in Dr. Green's pharmacy. Early on, John showed interest in the practice of medicine, which Dr. Green encouraged. Dr. Green gave John medical texts to read and allowed him to assist with routine patient care from time to time. It surprised no one when John decided on a career in medicine.
John was accepted at one of the nation's most respected medical schools, where he became a star student. In fact, a treatise he wrote as part of his graduation requirements was selected by the president of the New York Medical Society for inclusion in the prestigious New York Medical and Physical Journal. It was only the first of many publications by John.
After graduating from med school, John returned to Carolina, but soon pulled up stakes and headed for a rapidly growing part of Florida, where he became a pillar of the community. Few were as committed to the care of the suffering as John. He was known to take indigent patients into his home when they could not get a bed in the local hospital. At times, John was caring for so many who could not afford to pay him that he found it necessary to supplement his income with other jobs.
Once, when a ship pulled into port and asked for a doctor, John went. When he identified the signs of yellow fever throughout the crew, John stayed. He quarantined the ship and rode out the contagious period of the disease, treating and caring for the crew, which was almost uniformly struck with the disease.
John was a committed physician and also committed to his community. In addition to his medical duties, he helped start a church and made financial investments in the local community. He had ownership stakes in a number of businesses over time, including a bank and the area's leading hotel.
When John was encouraged to run for mayor by the city fathers, he did, and won. As mayor he was a vigorous advocate for improved sanitation in the community, especially among food suppliers. John wanted to make his adopted town clean, safe and prosperous.
Professionally, John was passionate about finding a cure for the contagious diseases that periodically seemed to ravage his town. At one point, things got so bad that some spoke of an epidemic. The hospitals overflowed. John allowed many of the sick to stay in his home while they recovered. The news media was quiet, however. They panned the problem.
John's work on contagious diseases brought him to within one intuitive step of monumental discoveries of a disease that's cause was eluding the greatest medical minds of the day. While he missed the cause, he did make an unexpected breakthrough regarding treatment. If he was passionate before, John was obsessed now. To the consternation of his wife, he turned his home into a laboratory and workshop.
Yet, John was continually frustrated by the lack of a key ingredient, unavailable locally, that he needed to continue his work. When his orders for the ingredient failed to arrive on a consistent basis, John decided that he would simply manufacture it. That no one had ever done this was no impediment to John.
He read the scientific journals and built upon the unproven, untested theory of a British scientist, Sir John Herschel. Construction of key components required expertise not readily at hand in his coastal Florida town. When John was unable to purchase parts locally, he made them himself. John was now approaching fanaticism.
Finally, John achieved success. He developed a machine that would make the key ingredient and with it, he developed an application to help ease the plight of the disease sufferers.
John showed his machine to his close friend, Dr. Alvin Chapman, who was impressed and awed. John began to realize the commercial potential of his feat. He traveled to New Orleans to secure financing. He succeeded in attracting several angel investors. The primary investor was a visitor to the city from Boston.
After receiving patents from Britain and the United States, it was time to find a manufacturer. John traveled first to Cincinnati. His demonstrations were reported positively in the local papers. Unfortunately, they came to the attention of powerful, entrenched business interests whose livelihoods and monopolies were suddenly threatened. They began a disinformation campaign.
In the following years, John was hit by a series of one blow after another. First, the well-funded disinformation campaign ridiculing John and his invention was having an effect. Second, his lead angel passed away. Third, a severe hurricane struck his home in Florida, destroying the hotel he had interest in and a number of other properties.
Yet, John was determined. He traveled around the country attempting to secure additional financing and a manufacturer, expending a significant portion of his wealth. He spent considerable time in New York, but was unable to attract the interest of New York financiers, who considered the invention of little value to them (the ingredient made by John's machine was readily at hand in New York).
Disheartened, ridiculed and humiliated, John returned home to Florida. He filed for one more patent. This patent was truer to John's original purpose. John filed the patent, yet never heard from the patent office. Though we know about John's application, we do not know if it was ever received by the patent office. If it had been, almost assuredly it would have been granted because later, similar patents were granted. Yet, John never heard from the patent office.
Once a pillar of the community, John found that others in his town had come to regard him as somewhat of a quack and an eccentric. Few held John in high regard any longer. We do not know how John's life ended. We do know that he died young, within a week of creating a will and setting his affairs in order.
John is Dr. John Gorrie from Apalachicola, Florida. He was born 200 years ago and is the inventor of the first ice machine. On August 22, 1850, John was granted London Patent #13,124. On May 6, 1851, he received U.S. Patent #8080.
Refrigeration is closely related to air conditioning and John's second patent application was for the first air conditioner, described as "cooling and disinfecting ventilation."
Before he died, John knew he was a man ahead of his time. He described his ice machine as a product "in advance of the wants of the country."
It was also a machine that threatened the interests of Frederick Tudor, who was known as the "ice king." Tudor's monopoly in the distribution of expensive "natural ice" carved from northern lakes during winter months was threatened by John's machine.
History does not record whether Tudor funded the misinformation campaign or not, though reports are that John suspected him. The effectiveness of the campaign is unquestioned. For example, a New York editor remarked, "Some crank down in Apalachicola, Fla., a Dr. John Gorrie, claims he can make ice as good as God Almighty!"
Credit for the invention of the artificial ice machine was given to Ferdinand Carrie from France. His patent for an ammonia absorption refrigeration device was U.S. Patent #30201, granted in 1860. Carrie was reported to be the "savior of mankind" for his invention. Yet, there is evidence that his machine was merely an improvement of Gorrie's and that he designed it in full knowledge of Gorrie's work.
Decades later, credit for the first air conditioner was ironically given to a New Yorker, Willis Carrier, who is often described as the "father of air conditioning." If so, John Gorrie is the grandfather.
No one knows whether Carrier had prior knowledge of Gorrie's patent or not. It's possible. Yet, Carrier was probably unaware of Gorrie's ventilation system designs, which were gravity-based and not forced air. Certainly it does not detract from Carrier's genius to recognize Gorrie's contributions.
Learning From The StoryGorrie's life offers lessons in marketing.
1. It is impossible to restrain progress for long, as Tudor may have tried. What if Tudor, instead of resisting change, had jumped on the bandwagon, financing the production of John Gorrie's work and all of its possible applications? We'll never know.
2. No matter how ambitious your goals, they will remain little more than dreams if you cannot execute in the marketplace. This is why we know of Willis Carrier, but not John Gorrie.
3. No matter how good your idea or service, if you cannot obtain adequate financing, you are doomed.
4. Building a better mousetrap does not ensure success. It's far better to build a good mousetrap and market it better than the next guy.
I could add to this list. I won't. Instead, I would rather tell you about my visit to the Gorrie Museum in Apalachicola recently.
The Gorrie Museum isn't large. It's rather small. Among other things, it does contain a scaled down version of John Gorrie's original ice museum (the original is in the Smithsonian) and a rather good Diaspora of Gorrie explaining his "fever room" with gravity-feed ice-cooled supply air and a return-air system to ensure air conditioning and ventilation.
Cattycorner to the museum is the Gorrie Monument. It's not in good shape. The monument is shifting on its foundation and in bad need of paint. It's sad. Here's a man whose work was so important, yet largely unknown. Even his memorial appears forgotten.
On Thursday, July 24, at 11:00 a.m., I began repainting the base of the monument. This is what Willie McNair, the curator of the museum requested when I asked how I could help.
Cleaning and painting a monument may not be the best way to spend part of your vacation. However, I was moved after visiting the museum and talking with McNair.
I felt a connection to John Gorrie and a need to do something about it. It may be that I grew up near Apalachicola and remember visiting the town as a kid (side note: Apalachicola has the world's greatest oysters - you haven't experienced oysters until you've had Apalachicola Bay oysters). It may be that my first job out of college was working as a project engineer in the ice industry.
Yet, beyond any personal connections, I believe in an industry that has wholly supported me since graduating from college. I believe in community service. I think we should all give something back. I also have a weakness for underdogs and unsung heroes. Repainting the Gorrie Monument qualifies for all three.
I don't know how many people receiving this message live near enough to Apalachicola to help (if you don't already know where Apalachicola is located, you're too far away - trust me), or who are inclined and able to help. If you want to pitch in, email me. I'll send you directions.
People have asked me where and how they can support the Gorrie Museum with their dollars. Please send any donations to:
Gorrie Museum Citizen Support Organization
Apalachicola Area Historical Society, Inc.
P.O. Box 75
Apalachicola, FL 32329-0075
Source: Comanche Marketing. Reprinted by permission.