This American food hero has had a significant impact on British shopping and eating habits but only since the 1950s when domestic freezers became more common.
Clarence Birdseye (1886-1956) was born New York and studied biology at Amherst College in Massachusetts. For this story what is important is that between 1912 and 1916 he was working in Labrador, Newfoundland, a place at the top Eastern edge of Canada which gets extremely cold.His field journals from this period are held in the archives of Amherst College and reveal how he learnt about freezing food. In Newfoundland he saw how the Inuit used the freezing conditions to preserve fresh fish and meat. The arctic cold meant that things froze extremely fast and he concluded that it was the rapid freezing that meant the food tasted good months later. Clarence thought he could make money out of this knowledge.
In the early 1920s he began experimenting with frozen fish. At this time there were plenty of other people working on freezing technology but two things made Clarence’s efforts stand out. First he developed a machine that could freeze food quickly, which gave the ice-crystals less time to grow and meant that the food was in better condition when it was defrosted. Second, he packaged the frozen food into small waxed boxes, which were attractive to buyers. This boosted the commercial success of Clarence’s frozen foods. In 1929 he sold his firm and his patents, to organisations which later became the General Foods Corporation. He continued to be involved, as a corporate executive until the late 1930s and his name lives on in the company brand.