A Brief History of Van Refrigeration

It’s hard to imagine life as we know it today without delivery vehicles and in particular the compact refrigerated van. Before the emergence of mobile refrigeration, ancient cultures used to cut ice from frozen lakes, ponds, and glaciers to meet their refrigeration needs. Today’s growing demand for inner city delivery of refrigerated products has solidified the importance of the compact van and ATC’s products for van refrigeration.

The Early Days


During the early days of mobile refrigeration, perishable freight was transported using the railroad. In the mid 1800’s the Massachusetts Western Railroad company was attempting different ways of keeping cattle meat from spoiling by transforming rail cars and trailers into ice boxes. Several methods were attempted like filling trailers with ice, which ended up causing discoloration to the meats. It was not until 1851 that the Northern Railroad Company developed the first insulated boxcar, however, it was only able to function in colder weather and climates. These limitations motivated other railroad companies and farmers to develop a more functional ice boxcar that could be used through all terrains for transport.
Refrigerated rail cars were first patented in 1873 to support the growing beef industry

Image is property of Refrigerated Specialists Inc

In 1877 an inventor, Gustavus Swift brought forth the idea of cooling an entire car by having the air circulate through the boxcar and through the ice itself. In 1878, Andrew Chase developed a well insulated, ice based trailer with a ventilation system. He placed the ice in the roof compartment and this method allowed the chilled air to flow down, keeping the whole boxcar cool. Both methods of ice based mobile refrigeration were adopted and brought success to companies like the Union Stock Yard and Chicago Slaughterhouse. In addition to transporting to local areas, they were able to transport meats across the country without worrying about spoilage.

The Growth of Mobile Refrigeration

The ice being used in the early days was cut out of bodies of water and had to be quickly transported, but other discoveries were being introduced in order to lessen the burden of collecting ice. Different cooling methods, like dry ice, were being implemented, which expanded companies that specialized in transporting perishable freight because they were able to send their products across the state. These methods especially took off when the combustible engine in automobiles took center stage.

Eventually, by the 1940’s ice based transport methods began getting replaced by mechanical refrigeration systems. This brought rise to the first manufacturer to develop mechanical mobile refrigeration, U.S. Thermo Control Company. By WWII the methods for refrigerated transport were adopted by ships and airplanes. This made it possible to transport frozen goods as well as medical supplies, like blood for transfusions. Afterward, van refrigeration and truck refrigeration, also referred to as reefers, helped spread the growth of the frozen foods industry.

Van refrigeration spread as its’ popularity grew among transport, farming, and food companies who sought more efficient and faster ways to sell their goods. They no longer had to rely solely on railways and trailer/boxcar refrigeration, especially with the advent of the interstate highway system. Van refrigeration and other reefers at this time continued to experiment with different cooling methods, some utilizing evaporated liquid gas while others used coolant systems.

Maintaining Temperatures

The cooling mechanisms used since the early days have continued to improve because the importance of maintaining temperatures is vital. Without proper cooling and temperature control, meat would spoil, ice cream would melt, fruits and vegetables would rot, flowers would wilt, even medical supplies would be compromised. Regardless of what kind of freight is being transported, you want to ensure that proper insulation and ventilation methods are used for van refrigeration. This means having ready access to temperature control systems before, during, and after transport. Maintaining proper temperature control is especially important when considering the distances that the freight will have to go, whether it be for local or international transport.

Contact Advanced Temperature Control (ATC) Refrigeration

 ATC Truck Refrigeration specializes in proper temperature solutions, customized reefers and van refrigeration units. Our systems are designed to perform and built to last and feature an InCab control to set and monitor the cargo area temperature. The refrigerated solutions offered will meet all your needs whether you are transporting frozen entrees, tropical plants, or beer, wine, and other beverages. Contact us for more information on our systems.