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Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore (1760-1822) was a cabinetmaker, engineer, and farmer who developed one of the earliest refrigeration devices. 

Moore's "refrigerator" was constructed by placing a tin box inside an oval cedar tub and filling the gaps between box and tub with ice. The whole was then covered with a hinged lid and insulated on the outside with rabbit fur and coarse woolen cloth. Moore developed the box to transport butter from Georgetown to his home in Montgomery County, Maryland.Letter from Moore to Jefferson, 21 June 1802. Library of Congress.

In 1802, Moore invited Thomas Jefferson to view his new refrigerator.1 Jefferson made a sketch of the device in the margin of the invitation. Two years later the notation "Paid Isaac Briggs for Thos. Moore 13.D. for a refrigerator" appears in Jefferson's memorandum book.2

Jefferson was still apparently using the refrigerator years later, somewhat to the consternation of his family.  His granddaughter Ellen commented sourly during a trip to Poplar Forest in 1819, "Grand papa insisted on our using that filthy cooler, (refrigerator, I believe he calls it,) which wasted our small stock of ice, and gave us butter that run about the plate so that we could scarcely catch it, and wine above blood-heat—but on Burwell’s recovery, he soon scouted it, (to use Aunt M’s favorite expression) and we have been quite comfortable ever since."3

- Anna Berkes, 1/29/08; revised 9/23/15

Further Sources

  • 1. Moore to Jefferson, June 21, 1802, in PTJ, 37:650-51. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 2. MB, 2:1132. Isaac Briggs was Moore's brother -in-law.
  • 3. Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge) to Martha Jefferson Randolph, August 24, 1819, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge Correspondence, University of Virginia.  Transcription available online in Jefferson Quotes and Family Letters Database.


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