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Clarence Birdseye

AKA Clarence Robert Birdseye

Born: 9-Dec-1886
Birthplace: Brooklyn, NY
Died: 7-Oct-1956
Location of death: Springfield, MA
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Cremated (ashes scattered at sea)

Gender: Male
Religion: Anglican/Episcopalian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist, Inventor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Frozen and dried food, wrapped in cellophane

Scientist and inventor Clarence Birdseye devised the modern method for fast-freezing food. Prior to his time, food was often frozen, but the process damaged the food's taste and appearance, and the food was susceptible to contamination. Seafood, then, was generally available only for a few days after being caught, and only in areas near the coast or inland waters. Birdseye worked as a fur trapper and trader in the Canadian North, where he noticed that fish would freeze almost immediately after being caught, and when cooked later -- even weeks later -- these quick-frozen fish tasted much better than fish mechanically frozen in warmer climates.

Birdseye began his experiments with freezing in 1916, and eventually came to understand that if fish was frozen very, very quickly its cellular structure was damaged far less, so that when thawed it was nearly indistinguishable from fresh fish. He established his General Seafoods Company in 1924, and with Birdseye's double belt freezer, which moved the fish rapidly on a pair of sub-freezing stainless steel belts, the business was quickly successful. As his company expanded its process from fish to vegetables, the venture was sold and given a new name: General Foods.

He continued working in the company's research and development division, and with his staff, Birdseye developed coated cellophane as a wrapper for frozen foods, adapted his flash-freezing technique to dozens of varieties of processed and frozen foods, and developed more effective means for dehydrating foods. General Foods introduced Birds Eye brand mass-produced frozen foods in eighteen stores in Springfield, MA, on March 6, 1930. Frozen foods went nationwide in 1944, when Birdseye suggested leasing insulated railroad cars for shipping. He further changed the grocery landscape by contracting with American Radiator Corporation to build display freezers, which General Foods then leased to stores. By the early 1950s, more than half of American grocery stores had a 'frozen food' section.

In addition to his work in the food industry, Birdseye obtained patents for incandescent lighting, a whale-fishing harpoon, an infrared heating process, and a technique for converting sugar cane waste into paper pulp. He also wrote a book on wildflowers, and was an expert at Chinese checkers. "I have more hobbies than the law allows", he once explained. "Some are sissy. Some have hair on their chest". When he died in 1956, his ashes were scattered in the waters near his first fish processing factory in Gloucester, MA.

Father: Clarence Frank Birdseye (attorney, b. 1854, d. 1927)
Mother: Ada Underwood Birdseye (m. 1878)
Sister: Miriam Birdseye
Brother: Kellogg Birdseye
Brother: Henry Underwood Birdseye
Sister: Katherine Birdseye
Sister: Marjorie Birdseye
Brother: Roger Williams Birdseye
Sister: Elizabeth Birdseye
Sister: Margaret Birdseye
Wife: Eleanor Gannett Birdseye (b. 1888, m. 1915, d. 1977)
Son: Kellogg Birdseye (b. 1916, d. 2002)
Daughter: Ruth Birdseye (b. 1918, d. 2003)
Daughter: Eleanor Birdseye (b. 1923)
Son: Henry Birdseye (b. 1925, d. 1972)

    High School: Montclair High School, Montclair, NJ (1906)
    University: Amherst College (1907-10, dropped out)

    National Inventors Hall of Fame 2005 (posthumous)
    General Foods (1929-56)
    US Agriculture Department Naturalist (1910-11)
    Chi Psi Fraternity

Author of books:
Growing Woodland Plants (1951, with Eleanor Birdseye)

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