What was it like before we could ship refrigerated beef all over the country? We had to ship the cattle there! The innovation of refrigeration is truly a technology that has made it more efficient to deliver beef products to consumers. Read the whole article here.
Refrigeration Heated Up the Beef Industry
From lake ice to compressed ammonia to ether to petrochemicals, beef expanded markets with refrigeration.
By Dan Crummett
It was a typical hot and muggy July day in 1869 when the Agnes steamed into New Orleans with a load of refrigerated beef on board.
Inside, a 25-by-50-foot cold storage room was stocked with chilled and frozen Texas beef, and Henry Peyton Howard of San Antonio became the first person to use mechanical refrigeration to preserve beef in transit.
The ship used compressed ammonia to make dry ice as a refrigerant, a technology that would remain in the maritime shipping industry well into the 20th century.
Texas was a hotbed of refrigeration experimentation and engineering during the Civil War, as the North had cut off supplies of natural ice harvested from the Great Lakes in the winter and shipped down the Mississippi River. A rudimentary French ice machine that used compressed ammonia as a refrigerant was smuggled through the Union blockade into Mexico and on into San Antonio during the war, and after the conflict ended, the Texans had similar but improved machines of their own.
In fact, three of the nation’s five artificial ice machines were in located in San Antonio by 1867. Later developments would see the use of ether and petroleum products as refrigerants, but the hardware of modern refrigeration was established with those earliest machines.
Howard’s shipment of chilled beef into the Big Easy in 1869 was the culmination of a contest between Howard and Thaddeus Lowe to develop such a ship to haul beef to England, and the only reason Lowe didn’t get the credit was because his ship, the William Tabor, drew too much water to dock in the New Orleans harbor!
Before this, ranchers used lush prairie grasses to fatten cattle before shipping them live to Eastern markets — a highly inefficient bit of transportation. Refrigeration would change that business model, allowing cattle to be slaughtered near railheads. Transporting halves or quarters was much more efficient than hauling live cattle, 40% of whose weight was not consumable at the end of the ride.
In 1958, one of the first truly self-contained refrigerated railcars – one that carried its own diesel-powered refrigeration unit – was introduced, marking the beginning of the end of so-called artificial ice and icing stations for U.S. railroads. Over-the-road trucks began pulling mechanically refrigerated semi-trailers in 1949, and today do most of the delivery of primal cuts and boxed beef over long distances.