A restless curiosity, a love of outdoors, a propensity for risk taking, and the experience from his adventures in Canada led Clarence Birdseye, the son of a New York Supreme Court judge and grandson of a Connecticut inventor, to discover the process of quick- freezing, upon which he built his fortune. “I am best described as just a guy with a very large bump of curiosity and a gambling instinct,” he wrote.
While ice fishing in Labrador, where temperatures often exceed 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, Birdseye noted that the fish he caught, when pulled through the ice and exposed to the cold air froze fast and hard. He also noticed something more subtle: when thawed then cooked, the fish were tender, flaky and moist . . . nearly as good as when caught fresh from the lake and cooked immediately. He found the same was true for other types of game and for heads of cabbage which he stored outside his cabin during the long Canadian winters.
Educated at Amherst College, Birdseye went to work in the Massachusetts fish business. His first efforts at marketing quick-frozen food did not meet with success. Shoppers were skeptical of “cold storage” food because they were accustomed to a process which left cooked food dry and tasteless. Birdseye was unable to convince grocers and shoppers that his process for “quick-frozen” fish was different.
Clarence Birdseye did not give up. He convinced several wealthy backers of the merits of his idea. With Birdseye’s view of the future, they formed the General Foods Company which launched a campaign to win acceptance for the Birdseye line of “frosted foods.”
Together with other colonial family food names such as Baker (Baker’s Coconut), Post (Postum and cereal), and Maxwell (coffee) the General Foods Company went on to become one of the world’s largest processors and marketers of packaged grocery and meat products.
After the success of this venture, Birdseye devoted much of his time to other new inventions. He designed reflecting light bulbs, an electric fishing reel, and developed a process for dehydrating foods. When asked what characteristics contributed most significantly to his success, Birdseye replied, “I go around asking a lot of damn fool questions and taking chances.