Who was Clarence Birdseye and why is he significant?

When food is frozen slowly, at temperatures near the freezing point, ice crystals form within the animal or vegetable cells; when the food thaws, cellular fluid leaks from the damaged tissue, giving the food a mushy or dry consistency. Rapid freezing, at lower temperatures, gives crystals less time to form and thus does less damage.

My research confirms that in 1922, Clarence 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.

In 1925, General Seafood Corporation moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts. There it marketed and sold 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, considered by some as the beginning of today’s frozen foods industry. Birdseye patented other machinery which cooled even more quickly. In 1927, he patented the multiplate freezing machine which was used as the basis for freezing food for several decades.

In 1929, Birdseye sold his company and patents for $22 million (approximately $335 million in 2021 dollars) to Goldman Sachs and the Postum Company, which eventually became General Foods Corporation. General Foods 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. In 1949, Birdseye became the second winner of the Institute of Food Technologists‘ Babcock-Hart Award. Birdseye was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005.

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To learn more about Clarence Birdseye and his achievements, check out M.C. Hall’s biography of him by clicking here.


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