In 1833, John Gorrie was a young physician looking for a place to practice. He found it in the port city of Apalachicola, Florida. There, although he was a tireless resident at two hospitals, he found time to serve (at various times) as postmaster, bank director, councilman, city treasurer, and even mayor. But it’s his research into tropical diseases and treatments for yellow fever that had the most lasting effect, on both locals and far beyond.
Dr. John Gorrie is remembered as the father of air conditioning.
Gorrie’s hypothesis was that “bad air” was the cause of many of his patients’ diseases. His innovative treatment required the cooling of sickrooms, which he achieved by placing blocks of ice in basins suspended from the ceiling. Since ice had to be transported by boat from northern lakes, and the treatment needed large quantities of ice, Gorrie began experimenting with making it artificially. In 1845, he gave up his medical practice to focus on inventions, and in 1851 was granted the first U.S. patent for mechanical refrigeration.
Unfortunately, after a financial partner died, Gorrie was unable to find anyone else to back his machine, and he died at the age of 52, secluded and nearly penniless. Though there are disagreements over who invented the air conditioner, it is widely agreed that Gorrie’s ice machine, and his patent for mechanical refrigeration, were major steps toward its development.
Originally buried in Magnolia Cemetery, after breaking ground for a museum in his honor, Gorrie’s body was moved and the John Gorrie Museum State Park was dedicated in 1958. It is across the street from the new gravesite and heritage marker in Gorrie Square, and also near a large monument that tells his story.
His influence and achievements meant so much to Floridians, in 1914 he was chosen to represent the state in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol. You can still see him on the tour today, where it’s nice and cool.
Know Before You Go
Admission to the museum is $2 for those over the age of 6. Open 9-5 every day except Tuesdays and Wednesday.