Birdseye – the Father of Frozen Food

by Ray Setterfield


Event Date: March 6, 1930
Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, USA

Birds Eye frozen food went on sale for the first time on this day – restricted to 18 stores in Springfield, Massachusetts. The owners, the Goldman Sachs Trading Company, wanted to see how the public would take to this novel idea of offering food for sale.

A year earlier, Goldman had paid $22 million to Clarence Birdseye, the inventor of the process, to secure his trademarks and patents.

This was wealth beyond dreams for 43-year-old New York-born Clarence who had begun his career working as a taxidermist. After jobs in Arizona and New Mexico as an assistant naturalist he moved in 1912 to Labrador – now in Canada – to work as a fur trapper and to carry out a fish and wildlife survey.

It was the fish element of his work that was to change his destiny and lead to the creation of a worldwide business.

Native Americans at Labrador showed Clarence how they caught fish then preserved them under very thick layers of ice. He was intrigued to see that the fish iced rapidly in the -40C temperature.

He was even more intrigued to discover that the fish tasted fresh when later thawed. Hooked, he could see business opportunities ahead.

He read all he could find about the art of freezing fish, then set up his own company called Birdseye Seafoods Incorporated. He used air chilled to -43C to freeze fish fillets, but consumers gave the product the cold shoulder and in 1924 the company had to file for bankruptcy.

As inventive as he was determined, Birdseye immediately created a new quick-freezing process that involved freezing cartons of fish under pressure between two refrigerated surfaces. The process proved to be commercially viable and he formed a new company, General Seafood Corporation, to develop it.

Ever busy and inventive, Birdseye then came up with another new invention which he called the double belt freezer and this marked the beginning of the flourishing frozen foods industry.

In 1927, he started flash-freezing other food, taking in vegetables, chicken, meat, and fruit.

After the Goldman-Sachs Trading Corporation and the Postum Company (later the General Foods Corporation) bought out Birdseye in 1929 his name was kept as a trademark but split into two words: “Birds Eye”.

The first quick-frozen vegetables, fruit, seafoods, and meat were sold for the first time in 1930 in Springfield under the trade name Birds Eye Frosted Foods.

Refrigerated grocery display cases made their appearance later that year. Another major leap forward came in In 1944 with the introduction of refrigerated boxcars to transport the frozen foods by rail nationwide.

National distribution had become a reality and Birdseye had become a legend. Today, frozen food is a multi-billion dollar industry and Birds Eye, the leading brand, is sold almost everywhere.

Clarence Birdseye died of a heart attack in October, 1956. He was 69.

Published: February 3, 2018

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