From the Wise Master (January, 2011)

posted May 21, 2015, 11:51 AM by San Jose Scottish Rite   [ updated May 21, 2015, 11:51 AM ]

A chance conversation with our orator Maury Dunbar is the origin of this month’s column.

Maury asked me if I remembered the name of the man who invented air conditioning. I replied confidently that yes, I happen to know that it was John Gorrie. Maury thought that didn’t sound right and called me later to say he remembered that it was a man named Carrier.
That prompted me to do a little research into the history of air conditioning and it seems that both John Gorrie and Willis Carrier are credited with the invention of air conditioning; John Gorrie in 1848 (patent No. 8080 awarded in 1851) and Willis Carrier in 1912.
My topic this month however, will be John Gorrie.
Born in 1803, his birthplace is generally accepted as Charleston, South Carolina although inconsistencies in the record indicate that his birthplace may actually have been Spain; Charlestown, West Indies or Columbia, South Carolina.
Nonetheless, in 1824 he apprenticed for a year with a Columbia apothecary and in 1825 enrolled in the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York state where he earned his medical degree in a mere 18 months.
Upon graduation, Gorrie opened his first medical practice in Abbeville, South Carolina before moving with his mother to Sneads, Florida in 1831. After his mother died in 1833, he moved to Apalachicola, Florida which was, at the time, the third largest port on the eastern seaboard.
Gorrie supplemented the income from his medical practice by taking on a variety of civic duties beginning with the position of assistant postmaster in 1834 and becoming postmaster before the year was through. In 1835 Gorrie became a notary public and shortly thereafter was appointed chairperson of the Apalachicola city council and city treasurer. It was at this time he also became secretary pro-tem of the Apalachicola Masonic lodge and the following year was elected its treasurer. He then was elected to vice intendant and the following year, 1837, he was elected as intendant (mayor.)
During this period Gorrie was a partner in the Mansion House Hotel, built in 1836, and became president of the Bank of Pensacola.
In 1837 Gorrie became a founding member of the Marine Insurance Bank of Apalachicola and director of the Apalachicola Mutual Insurance Company in 1840. In addition to all of his civic and business responsibilities, he was also a charter member in the establishment of the Apalachicola Episcopal Church.
It’s men like Gorrie who make you realize how little you’ve accomplished in life. For instance; when Mozart was my age he had been dead 19 years. In 1841 Gorrie became Justice of the Peace, the same year that a malaria and yellow fever epidemic swept through Apalachicola.
Gorrie resigned from all of his civic responsibilities and reduced the number of patients he was seeing so he could devote as much time as possible to searching for a cure to these deadly illnesses.
Mal-aria is Italian for “bad air” and at the time it was believed that these diseases were caused by rapidly decomposing vegetable matter. It wasn’t until 1901 that mosquitoes would be conclusively proven to be the carrier of yellow fever.
Gorrie had long been a proponent of draining the swamps, filling the marshlands and building in brick. Unfortunately, people still got malaria so Gorrie decided to try to control the one thing that he could; the temperature.
He built a fever room which had buckets of ice suspended from the ceiling. It did prove effective in lowering the temperature of his victims, errr I mean patients.
Gorrie had been experimenting with refrigeration since 1838 and by 1845 he had developed a working theory of how to refrigerate air to the degree that the cold air could even be used to freeze water and he had completely abandoned his medical practice. In 1848 he commissioned the Cincinnati Iron Works to build a working model of his machine.
About this time, he was entertaining the French ambassador at the worst possible time: the ice ship had failed to arrive from Boston. There was much twittering about what a social gaff he was about to commit by serving WARM champagne.
When the time arrived, Gorrie confidently announced that, not only was he about to serve cold champagne, but he could even offer a chilled oyster or two. Sadly, this was to be Gorrie’s last triumph.
Although he published many medical and scientific papers, his final pamphlet was published in 1854 promoting his ice making machine.
Northerners denounced his claims and ridiculed his theories, the powerful ice lobby fought his every attempt to market his machines and worse, because his machine was a prototype it developed a reputation for leaks and unreliability.
Falling further into debt, he was forced to sell half his interest in his ice machine to a New Orleans business man who died before providing Gorrie with any funds. Gorrie died a destitute, broken man on 16 June 1855 and is buried in Gorrie Square in Apalachicola, Fl.
So the next time you turn on your home or car air conditioner or enjoy an air conditioned store or movie theater, pause for a moment and consider yet another contribution by a member of our fraternity.
Brethren, this is my last column as Wise Master however I find that I rather enjoy writing these articles so you may see my contributions
appearing in the Rite Word from time to time.

Thank you for your support.
Bryant Day
Wise Master