Clarence Birdseye: Biography, Facts & Invention

Instructor: Anne Butler

Anne has a bachelor's in K-12 art education and a master's in visual art and design. She currently works at a living history museum in Colorado.

Any college student on a budget knows one of the cheapest ways to get a full meal is to buy a frozen one from the freezer section. This multi-million dollar industry is the result of one man - Clarence Birdseye.

Frozen Find

Clarence Birdseye was born in Brooklyn, New York on December 9, 1886. He was very interested in biology and zoology and was intending to become a biologist. He enrolled in Amherst College in Massachusetts but dropped out due to financial reasons.

Around 1910, Birdseye began working with the U.S. Biological Survey as a government field naturalist. This job took him to the freezing Arctic, to the Canadian peninsula of Labrador. Here he was assigned to research the ways of the Eskimos who lived there and to trade furs. He stayed here for five years and during this time, he observed the ways the Eskimos froze food. The quick freezing due to the temperatures allowed the food to maintain its freshness instead of being damaged by a slower freezing method. It even tasted fresh after being thawed. Birdseye's scientific mind was fascinated by this process, and he wondered if he could figure out a way to quickly freeze vegetables and other foods.

The General Seafood Corporation

Upon his return to the states, Birdseye continued to work for various government agencies all while perfecting his freezing process. He formed a company with some wealthy investors, called Birdseye Seafoods, Inc.. This later became the General Seafood Company in 1924. By this time, Birdseye had perfected his process and his Quick Freeze Machine.

One of the many patents of Clarence Birdseye

To freeze the food, Birdseye would pack food in cartons and wax-packing. The food would then be frozen between two flat, refrigerated surfaces under pressure, sealing the food and freezing it. This process kept the food from spoiling. Birdseye was quickly able to patent this method.

Later Successes

In 1929, Birdseye's company was purchased by the Postum Company, and together the General Foods Corporation was created. General Foods then turned Birdseye's name into a trademark, creating the brand now known as Birds Eye.

The first retail sale of the Birds Eye frozen foods occurred on March 6, 1930 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Springfield had been a test market, but it was successful, as consumers liked that they could purchase food they might not have been able to purchase otherwise.

Birdseye stayed on as a consultant for General Foods, serving as its president from 1930-34.

The 1940s

Birdseye continued experimenting with ways to keep food from spoiling. In addition to his freezing process, he was also able to create a process for dehydrating food, which he patented in 1946. The 1940s also saw Birdseye collaborating with the American Radiator Company to create display units that would keep the food frozen in stores before it was sold.

Birds Eye continued to dominate the frozen foods market throughout the 1940s. In 1944, they began to lease refrigerated railroad cars, allowing for the shipment of the frozen foods nationwide.

The 1950s

Post-war America was all about convenience. From prefabricated houses to dishwashers, people wanted everything quickly. Housewives enjoyed the quick preparation of frozen meals, which meant they wouldn't have to be in their kitchen all day. Sales of frozen foods exceeded one billion dollars every year during the 1950s.

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