Have you ever pondered this question? Wonder no more ...
of waffles to bags of peas, the items found in the frozen food section of
grocery stores today owe their existence, in part, to Clarence Birdseye, who in
the 1920s developed a quick-freezing process that launched the modern
frozen-food industry. Between 1912 and 1917, Birdseye, a Brooklyn native, lived
in Labrador, where he worked briefly on a hospital ship then started a
fox-breeding venture. It was during this period that he learned about the
customs of the indigenous Inuit, who would go ice-fishing then let their catch
immediately freeze in the frigid air. When this frozen fish, which was left out
in the cold, eventually was cooked, it tasted fresh.
returning to America, Birdseye took a job in 1920 with a lobbying group for
commercial fisherman. In this role, he discovered that large amounts of freshly
caught fish spoiled before making it to stores. Recalling the flash freezing
he’d done in Labrador, Birdseye believed he could apply this concept to commercially
frozen food and in 1923 founded a frozen-fish company in New York. At the time,
commercially frozen food had been available for half a century; however, it was
unpopular with consumers because it lost its flavor and texture when thawed (it
was being frozen too slowly, causing large ice crystals to form, which
adversely affected the food’s cellular structure).
Birdseye’s company quickly
ran out of money but in the mid-1920s he relocated to Gloucester,
Massachusetts, a center of the fishing industry, and established a new
business, General Seafoods. He developed equipment and packaging and patented
his freezing process; however, he continued to face a number of hurdles,
including a lack of insulated vehicles to transport his products to stores and
the fact that many retailers didn’t have sufficiently refrigerated display
the Postum Cereal Company (maker of Grape-Nuts and other food items) saw the
potential in Birdseye’s innovations and acquired his business in 1929. Postum
was renamed General Foods and included the Birds Eye Frosted Food Division.
Frozen food still took time to catch on. Large numbers of Americans first
tasted frozen food in the 1940s, during World War II, when a shortage of tin
resulted in a dearth of canned goods, according to “Birdseye: The Adventures of
a Curious Man” by Mark Kurlansky. Even more significant, notes Kurlansky, was
the fact that while men were off fighting, women took jobs outside the home,
prompting them to seek faster ways to fix meals.
Clancy's comment: Go, Mr Birdseye. No doubt he had a birdseye view of the entire process.