From packages of waffles to bags of peas, the myriad items found in the frozen-food section of grocery stores today owe their existence, in part, to Clarence Birdseye, who in the 1920s developed a quick-freezing process that launched the modern frozen-food industry.
Between 1912 and 1917, Birdseye, a Brooklyn native, lived in chilly Labrador, Canada, where he worked briefly on a hospital ship before started a fox-breeding venture. It was during this period that he learned about the customs of the indigenous Inuit, who would go ice fishing and then let their catch immediately freeze in the frigid air. When this frozen fish, which was left out in the cold, eventually was cooked, it tasted fresh.
After returning to America, Birdseye took a job in 1920 with a lobbying group for commercial fishermen. In this role, he discovered that large amounts of freshly caught fish spoiled before making it to stores. Recalling the flash freezing he'd done in Labrador, Birdseye believed he could apply this concept to commercially frozen food and in 1923 founded a frozen-fish company in New York.
At the time, commercially frozen food had been available for half a century; however, it was unpopular with consumers because it lost its flavor and texture when thawed (it was being frozen too slowly, causing large ice crystals to form, which adversely affected the food's cellular structure).