Businessman, Naturalist and inventor Clarence Birdseye pioneered the process of flash freezing in the United States. His company was bought by General Foods.
Clarence Birdseye was born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 9, 1886. From a young age, he was interested in botany and zoology. Birdseye enrolled at Amherst College with the goal of becoming a biologist. Unable to afford his tuition, circa 1910, Birdseye dropped out of school and took a job as a government field naturalist for the U.S. Biological Survey—while supplementing his income with fur trading.
In 1912, Birdseye set out on a five-year fur-trading expedition on the Canadian peninsula of Labrador. During his time in the Arctic, Birdseye observed that Eskimos froze food in the winter, due to the challenges of procuring fresh food. He was fascinated by their quick freezing process, which entailed using the elements—ice, wind and cold temperatures—to freeze freshly caught fish instantly. Birdseye noticed that when the fish was frozen quickly, it retained its freshness until it was thawed. Only small ice crystals formed on the fish, and its cell walls remained intact. With his scientific mind, Birdseye wondered how the quick freezing process might work on fresh vegetables and other foods.
When Birdseye returned to the United States, he invented the "Quick Freeze Machine," based on the principles he had learned from the Eskimos. The machine worked on fish, fruit and vegetables. In 1924, Birdseye started a frozen-food company, the General Seafood Corporation, with the help of wealthy investors.
In 1929, the Postum Company bought the General Seafood Corporation and the new General Foods Corporation was born. General Foods kept the Birdseye trademark, but inserted a space between the two syllables to create the brand "Birds Eye." Hired as a consultant at General Foods, Birdseye served as president of Birds Eye Frosted Foods from 1930 to 1934, and Birdseye Electric Company from 1935 to 1938. During the early 1930s, General Foods released Birdseye's frozen vegetables, fruit, meat and fish onto the market, revolutionizing the way Americans cooked and ate.
Birdseye died on October 7, 1956, of a heart attack at the Gramercy Park Hotel. He was 69 years old.Birdseye was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea off Gloucester, Massachusetts.