Today In Science History – November 16 – Carl von Linde and the Refrigerator

Carl von Linde
Carl von Linde in 1872 (Age 30). Inventor of mechanical refrigeration and the first to liquefy gases from air.

November 16 marks the passing of Carl von Linde. Linde was the German engineer who developed the first mechanical refrigeration system. He worked from James Watt’s and William Thomson’s (Lord Kelvin) discovery that a gas changes temperature as it is compressed or expanded. He designed a two-chamber system that used dimethyl ether as a refrigerant. As the liquid DME evaporated into its gas phase, the temperature went down and pulled heat energy from that chamber’s surroundings. A compressor forced the gaseous DME back to its liquid state and released heat in the other chamber’s surroundings. His first commercial system was installed in Munich’s Spaten Brewery in 1873.

The brewing industry was extremely interested in Linde’s machine. Brewing requires cool temperatures which were only really available in the winter months or in deep cellars with expensive ice blocks. This device would allow them to brew year-round at a much lower cost. Orders began to pour in.

Linde left his teaching job to become head of his own company selling his refrigeration systems. He began selling to slaughterhouses, dairies, candy companies and any other industrial facility that benefitted from maintaining a constant temperature inside its factory. While these systems were being built, he opened several ice houses that produced and sold block ice. His company was quickly a success.

Over the next few years, Linde grew tired of being the boss and switched back to engineering to improve his systems. He improved the efficiency of his machine by changing the compression liquid to ammonia. This allowed him to remove more heat per compression cycle. He also began to recycle air through the cooling chamber. This would continue until the temperature was lowered enough to liquefy the air. Prior to this, pure gases were difficult to produce. They were often produced in small batches in laboratory conditions. Linde changed that overnight. He recognized the potential for this discovery enough to sell off his refrigeration patents in exchange for stocks and holdings in liquid gas companies all over Europe. One of his companies, Linde Air Products would go on to combine with four other companies to form Union Carbide, a major chemical manufacturing company. Linde Air Products would later branch off to form the liquid gas company Praxair.

Notable Science History Events for November 16

2005 – Henry Taube died.

Henry Taube
Henry Taube (1915 – 2005)

Taube was a Canadian-American chemist who was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work towards the understanding of electron transfer reactions in metal complexes. His work involved inner sphere electron transfers during a redox reaction. He found that during these reactions, a ligand bridges two metal redox centers. He used radioactive isotopes to identify the mechanisms involved in redox reactions.

1999 – Daniel Nathans died.

Nathans was an American molecular biologist who shares the 1978 Nobel Prize in Medicine with Hamilton Othanel Smith and Werner Arber for the discovery of restriction enzymes and their applications to break DNA molecules. Restriction enzymes are enzymes that cut DNA at known restriction sites. Nathans used restriction enzymes from bacteria to investigate the DNA of the simian virus 40. The genetic map he produced was an important step to the development of prenatal tests for genetic diseases.

1965 – The Soviet Union launches Venera 3 spacecraft.

Soviet spacecraft Venera 3 was launched on its way to the planet Venus. It would become the first spacecraft to land (impact) on another planet. Venera 3 attempted to land on Venus and was believed crushed by the thick atmosphere on March 1, 1966.

1945 – UNESCO formed.


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO was formed. This organization is set up to contribute to peace through educational, scientific, and cultural collaboration. It oversees programs involving education, natural science, social science, culture, and communication by promoting literacy, teacher training, and other science programs.

1934 – Carl von Linde died.

1881 – Joel Henry Hildebrand was born.

Hildebrand was an American chemist and educator. As an educator, he was involved with the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Chemistry from 1907 to 1953. UC Berkeley became one of the top producers of chemists and their laboratories produced five Nobel Prizes and major innovations in chemistry and physics.

As a chemist, his work was primarily with liquids and nonelectrolyte solutions. He wrote several textbooks and monographs, one of which, the monograph Solubility was a standard reference for 50 years.

1841 – Jules Violle was born.

Violle was a French astronomer who made the first high altitude measurement of the solar constant. The solar constant is the amount of radiant energy per unit area when the sun is directly overhead. He also created a unit of luminous intensity called the violle based on the light emitted by 1 cm2 of platinum at its melting point. It was the first unit of light intensity not based on a lamp or candle. This unit was eventually replaced by the modern SI unit of the candela.