James Harrison was a journalist, inventor, and visionary. He was the great pioneering mind behind mechanical refrigeration and is known in history as the ‘father of refrigeration’. While he passed before Standards Australia was established, he was a true innovator in his time and has had a lasting impact on the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration Industry.
Born in Scotland in 1816, James Harrison studied chemistry while he was apprenticed to a printer in Glasgow. In 1837 at age 21, he arrived in Sydney to work as a compositor. In 1839 he moved south to Melbourne, the newly founded settlement on the Yarra River.
In 1840, Mr Harrison would go on to establish and revive a struggling newspaper, the Geelong Advertiser, eventually becoming its sole owner and continuing its operations for 26 years.
Mr Harrison was recognised as being a pillar of the Geelong community. He advocated for many local issues, including the struggle for squatters to secure tenure leases. With his reputation, he positioned himself as a prominent local businessman and was elected as mayor of Geelong in 1850.
Mr Harrison would then go on to represent Geelong as a member of the Legislative Council in the Parliament of Victoria from 1854 to 1856. From 1858-1860, he represented Geelong as a member of the Legislative Assembly.
Mr Harrison is unquestionably an important figure in Australian history. However, he is most recognised for his contributions as an inventor. Although many individuals were involved in the development of refrigeration technology, he is considered the inventor of a practical mechanical refrigeration process of creating ice.
Mr Harrison made this discovery whilst cleaning metal with sulphuric ether and he noticed that when the ether evaporated, it cooled the metal. In 1854 he developed an ice-making machine. His machine forced ether vapour into a condenser where it changed back into liquid and moved through refrigeration coils. Once the ether evaporated again, it cooled the machine.
He patented the vapour-compressing system in 1855 in Victoria and in the United Kingdom a year later.
Mr Harrison’s innovation would alter the way in which meat, produce and beer were stored and cooled. His system was immediately taken up by the brewing industry and was also widely used by meatpacking factories.
Later in his career, Mr Harrison became a founder of the Victoria Ice Works in Melbourne and would later partner with PN Russell to establish the Sydney Ice Company. In 1873, he was awarded a gold medal at the Melbourne Exhibition by proving that meat kept frozen for months was still edible.
Mr Harrison is a pioneering mind that has afforded a greater standard of living for hundreds of millions of people around the world.
According to Adam Stingemore Standards Australia’s General Manager of Engagement and Communications, “although Mr Harrison lived and died years before Standards Australia was established, his innovation has positioned Australia as a leader and innovator in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration industry.”
Mr Stingemore goes on to comment that James Harrison was essentially a founding contributor to the establishment and development of the industry in Australia, stating that “we have come a long way and he has helped bring the industry a long way since his first conception of an ice-making machine.”