Refrigerated Trucks and Railway Cars
Refrigerated Trucks and Railway Cars
Refrigerated trucks and railroad cars have had a great impact on the economy and eating habits of U.S. citizens. As the United States became more urbanized after the U.S. Industrial Revolution in the early nineteenth century, the demand for fresh food shipped over long distances increased. Meat products were especially in demand.
In the mid-1800s, cattle raised in Texas were shipped by rail to Chicago, Illinois. Although it was more efficient to slaughter the cattle in Chicago and ship the carcasses to the East, rather than send live cattle east by rail, carcasses could only be shipped during the cold winter months. In the 1840s, refrigerated railroad cars were used for short trips of dairy products. The first boxcars fitted with bins filled with ice left Chicago in 1857 for New York City. At this time, the Swift company, headed by Gustavus Franklin Swift (1839–1903), tried unsuccessfully to move its meat within numerous boxcars with their doors removed,
allowing the winter temperatures to keep the meat cold. These few attempts were ended without much success.
The first refrigerator car patent was issued in 1867 for a crude design developed by William Davis, of Detroit, Michigan, for meat-packer George H. Hammond. He used metal racks that suspended the meat above ice and salt. However, the height of the meat caused derailments of the boxcars—quickly ending that method of transport. That same year, J.B. Sutherland, also of Detroit, patented a refrigerator car that contained ice tanks at both ends of the car. Ventilator flaps near the floor created a down draft of cold air through the car. While Hammond was able to ship meat to Boston, Massachusetts, by 1872, the cars had to be reloaded with ice once a day, and the meat arrived discolored from contact with the ice.
The first successful refrigerator car was patented in 1877 by Joel Tiffany of Chicago. Swift engineer, Andrew Chase, developed a similar design the same year. In Chase’s version, ice stored on the car’s roof dropped cold air down through the car; warm air was ventilated out through the floor. The meat was packed near the bottom of the boxcar to avoid derailments of the boxcars. Once meat could be reliably shipped east, the Chicago slaughterhouse industry boomed, and such meat-packing companies as Swift and Armour made fortunes, both in the United States and internationally. Refrigeration with ice is still used in railroad cars as well as in trucks and ships, with powerful fans circulating the cooled air.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, Chicago meat packing houses were using ammonia-cycle refrigeration, what was called artificial refrigeration. The largest meat-packing/delivery companies such as Swift, Armour, and Wilson installed these expensive devices on train cars and in storage/distribution facilities.
An obvious problem with iced refrigeration of transported perishable foods is that the food may spoil if the ice melts before the shipment reaches the market. In the late 1930s, at the request of the Werner Transportation Company, Minneapolis (Minnesota) engineer Frederick McKinley Jones (1892–1961) sought ways to build an automatic, ice-free air-cooling unit for long-distance trucking. He designed a compact, shock-proof air conditioner that could withstand the vibrations and jolting of overland travel. Jones’s first air conditioning device, which was installed under the truck, failed when it was clogged with mud. A unit mounted in front of the truck, above the cab, was a success.
Jones patented his truck air conditioner in 1940. The system was later adapted for use on railroad cars and ships. Jones’s invention changed the food industry. For the first time, perishable foods could be reliably transported over long distances at any time of the year. In turn, food production facilities could be located anywhere; foods could be marketed anywhere. A much greater variety of fresh and frozen foods was now available to millions of people. Today, refrigerators on trucks and trains usually keep temperatures between -40 and 68°F(-40 and 20°C).