Refrigerators from the late 1800s
until 1929 used the toxic gases, ammonia (NH3), methyl chloride (CH3Cl),
and sulfur dioxide (SO2), as refrigerants. Several fatal accidents occurred
in the 1920s because of methyl chloride leakage from
People started leaving their refrigerators in their backyards. A collaborative
effort began between three American corporations, Frigidaire, General Motors
and DuPont to search for a less dangerous method of refrigeration.
In 1928, Thomas Midgley, Jr. aided
by Charles Franklin Kettering invented a "miracle compound" called Freon.
Freon represents several different chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which
are used in commerce and industry. The CFCs are a group of aliphatic organic
compounds containing the elements carbon and fluorine, and, in many cases,
other halogens (especially chlorine) and hydrogen. Freons are colorless,
odorless, nonflammable, noncorrosive gases or liquids.
Side Note: Charles Franklin
Kettering invented the first electric automobile
system. He was also the vice-president of the General Motors Research
Corporation from 1920 to 1948. General Motors' scientist, Thomas Midgley
invented leaded (ethyl) gasoline.
Thomas Midgley was chosen by Charles
Franklin Kettering to head the research into the new refrigerants. Frigidaire
was issued the first patent, US#1,886,339, for the formula for CFCs on
December 31, 1928.
In 1930, General Motors and DuPont
formed the Kinetic Chemical Company to produce Freon. By 1935, Frigidaire
and its competitors had sold 8 million new refrigerators in the United
States using Freon made by the Kinetic Chemical Company. In 1932, the Carrier
Engineering Corporation used Freon in the world's first self-contained
home air conditioning unit, called an "Atmospheric
Side Note: The trade name
Freon ® is a registered trademark belonging to E.I. du Pont de Nemours
& Company (DuPont).
Because Freon is non-toxic, it eliminated
the danger posed by refrigerator leaks. In just a few years, compressor
refrigerators using Freon would become the standard for almost all home
kitchens. In 1930, Thomas Midgley held a demonstration of the physical
properties of Freon for the American Chemical Society by inhaling a lung-full
of the new wonder gas and breathing it out onto a candle flame, which was
extinguished, thus showing the gas's non-toxicity and non-flammable properties.
Only decades later did people realize that such chlorofluorocarbons endangered
the ozone layer of the entire planet.
Side Note: CFCs, or Freon,
are now infamous for greatly adding to the depletion of the earth's ozone
shield. Leaded gasoline is also a major pollutant, and Thomas Midgley secretly
suffered from lead poisoning because of his invention, a fact he kept hidden
from the public.
Thomas Midgley discoveries ranged
from a way of getting salt into popcorn before it was popped, to a method
for treating the contents of a swimming pool so that people could swim
History of the Refrigerator
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