How Clarence Birdseye, Class of 1910, Created the Frozen Food Aisle

Submitted on Friday, 6/25/2021, at 1:18 PM

In a recent episode of the Everything Everywhere Daily history podcast, host Gary Arndt explains the key role Birdseye played in developing technology to flash-freeze and transport  food, leading to today’s multi-billion-dollar global frozen food industry.

“Clarence Birdseye was born in Brooklyn in 1886. He had an interest in science and nature throughout his life. He attended Amherst College but had to drop out due to finances,” Arndt says. “In 1912 he joined a [research] project which took him to Labrador in what is today Canada.” There, Birdseye learned how the Inuit people preserved fish by throwing it on ice, where it would quickly freeze at extremely low temperatures. Unlike other food-freezing practices in the United States and Europe at that time, this flash-freezing method wouldn’t ruin the food’s texture or flavor.

Birdseye returned to the United States and set out to artificially replicate the Inuit food-freezing practice. “He developed the double belt freezer, which was two extremely cold plates that would flash-freeze packages of fish and vegetables quickly,” says Arndt. “Clarence Birdseye eventually developed freezers for trains, trucks, and retail stores.” The Birds Eye frozen food company still bears his name today.