After experiments in the early 1850s, James Harrison, Australia’s godfather of refrigeration, developed his mechanical ice machine in 1854. This was the precursor to his “Refrigerating Machine” – a vapour-compression system which Harrison patented in Victoria in 1855 and the United Kingdom in 1856.
At a low temperature, the machine evaporated ether. At a high temperature, it condensed it – the reverse of ordinary evaporation processes. The ether was contained in air-tight vessels. A cylinder at its centre was fitted with valves, so that each stroke of a piston would withdraw a quantity of ether vapour from the left-hand side, forcing it into a condensing vessel on the right.
Where the vapour was raised, an intense cold was produced. Where it was condensed, a corresponding degree of heat evolved. The ether, after resuming the liquid state, returned by self-regulating valve to the evaporating vessel and the process thus continued uninterruptedly. The machine could produce 3,000kg of ice per day – effectively changing how meat, produce and (unsurprisingly) beer would be cooled and stored. While cooling technology has since been refined, Harrison’s ice making machine stands as the breakthrough for refrigeration as we know it today.